Saturday, August 29, 2020

Making Ethical & Sustainable Choices

Minimalism is not only about the choice to keep fewer items in our homes, or paring down only to the things that make us happy. Making purchasing choices that are ethically and ecologically sustainable is important, too. There are a few facets of making these kinds of decisions that I want to lay out so that we can all work together to make the planet a better place. Individual action may never feel like it counts for much, but group action absolutely does. So how can we all make a difference together?

First: Consider Buying Secondhand
Secondhand shopping helped me stretch a very tight budget in college. Whether for clothing or for bigger items like furniture, making the choice to buy something secondhand keeps it out of the landfill until it's been truly well-used and lets an item serve its intended purpose for longer. It's also a great budget option for mixing up one's wardrobe--get something new-to-you secondhand, and donate it back when you're done with it. Secondhand clothing and soft furnishings can be washed, and wooden furniture can be sanded and restained or painted. Some of my personal favorite items in my home were purchased secondhand and refinished to match my own style. Sustainability does not have to be expensive.

Second: Look at Supply Chain Transparency Policies
Many retail clothing stores should have a supply chain transparency page on their website somewhere. If they do not have one, they may not have a supply chain that sources materials responsibly or pays living wages to factory workers. By shopping only at stores with humane, ethical, and eco-friendly supply chain policies, we're supporting fair wages, healthier factory environments, and less damage being inflicted on the planet. Supply chain transparency usually entails readily-available statements on safe working environments, living wages paid to factory workers, and surprise audits. Additionally, you may see commitments to garment recycling and using sustainably-sourced raw materials.

Third: Buy for Quality, Not Cheap Convenience
At some point, we've all probably bought something cheap that we've had to keep replacing over and over because it failed to stand up to every day use and abuse. Shoes and clothing are the primary culprits of this rapid replacement policy we seem to endure. It's important to shift to buying items for their quality and longevity over just cheap convenience. Of course, buying for quality usually means paying for it handsomely, too--but over time, a well-constructed pair of shoes, leggings, or a good dress will outlast many cheaper items. When we buy cheap stuff that needs to be replaced constantly, we're wasting the energy of the supply chain and just adding to the mounds of garbage in landfills and pollution in the ocean. Buy for quality and you'll produce less waste over time. As an added bonus, high-quality brands generally have better supply chain transparency than lower-quality "fast fashion" brands.

Fourth: Support Social Justice
As far as I am concerned, it is impossible to remain neutral when it comes to social justice and equitable treatment of all people. My official stance since I was a teenager has been (and please stop reading my blog after this if you disagree) "FUCK THE POLICE" because of police brutality, specifically the tortures and deaths inflicted upon nonwhite individuals. Coming from a place of white privilege and knowing that it's better to solve a problem than to become a part of it, I try to do what I can to buy only from brands that support racial equality, social equity, and social justice. If a brand sees it unfit to fight racial prejudice, they will not get my money, plain and simple. Bigotry, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are unsustainable social practices that damage community morale. Brands and stores that preach and practice love, empathy, and support for marginalized groups are better for us all.

If we all take these four tips to heart, whether we're minimalists or not, the world will eventually be a cleaner, happier, more loving place for us all. It's also important to note that we won't get every purchase right. But we can at least strive to make better choices when the opportunities arise. Go forth and be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Digital Decluttering Part 1: Social Media

Previously, I've written about how to declutter physical items. Minimalism and keeping tidy spaces are important to me in being happy at home and at work... and as an IT professional I think it's important to bring decluttering practices to our virtual worlds.

Recently, I have embarked on a journey to reduce my digital footprint. The process of decluttering my virtual world has so far been similar to the process of decluttering my home. Some of the questions are much the same as I'd ask when discarding a physical item, like whether or not I'm happy to have it follow me into the future, or how useful it will be for me to keep it long-term.

The first area I decided to tackle in my digital decluttering process was social media. I have never been big on social media sites to begin with, so I only had three sites to consider initially: Facebook, LinkedIn, and an IT community. Of each service, I asked:
  • Do I get what my time is worth from the platform?
  • Am I making meaningful social connections on the platform?
  • Do I want/need my posts to follow me into the future?
  • Is the sometimes-personal data I provide a fair trade-off for the value of the service?

For Facebook and LinkedIn, I quickly and confidently answered "No" to every single question. For the IT community, I felt I could answer "Yes" to the first three questions and "Close enough" to the last... for now. With those questions answered, I proceeded to remove as much as I could from Facebook before scheduling my account for deletion. I had posted next to nothing on LinkedIn, so I closed my account without much effort put forth to remove information from my profile.

Removing as much as I could from Facebook before leaving ended up being a week-long project. I posted two final statuses informing my small group of friends that I'm making an effort to reduce my online presence, and that they could find me on a couple of chat apps that I fully intend to keep long-term. If they missed their opportunity I decided to treat decluttering my interpersonal relationships as a perk--if they couldn't make time for me, they shouldn't expect mine in return. It took an entire week to declutter my profile and remove as much as I could before closing my account. It's not terribly necessary to remove everything before account deactivation, but it was a lot of data that I didn't care to let Facebook hold onto for any longer than they had to. I saved important photos back to one of my computers, and when I was satisfied with how much I retrieved and removed, I closed my account and removed the login information from my password vault so I wouldn't ever log in accidentally and break the timer for account deletion.

For the first couple weeks, I caught myself trying to type in when I opened up a browser out of boredom. After that, however, it started to become forgettable and I found more interesting things to do online and offline. Having time back to fill with more quality activities felt good. I started to wonder what I could do next, and within a few weeks of requesting Facebook account deletion, I cleaned up and deleted my Pinterest account as well.

Overall, it seemed easiest to remove Pinterest and LinkedIn from my online presence. Because I wanted to leave Facebook in what I felt was the "right" way, it took a lot of time and effort. However, I'm over a month removed from that journey now and I feel better for it. My time online is now mostly spent talking to friends and reading articles about topics that interest me. It's easier for me to pick up my Surface to draw on it and produce art than it is for me to pick it up and mindlessly surf the web. I'm no longer emotionally bogged down by negativity and superficial "who's got the best life?" contests on social media. 

Reducing social media's hold on my time has paved the way for increased productivity and given me the motivation to clean up and minimize the rest of my online presence so I can spend more of my time on things that matter to me. So, was it worth it to leave Facebook, LinkedIn, etc? Absolutely! I would highly recommend doing so to anyone whose digital life feels cluttered and dissatisfying. It really is worth the effort because the end result is more time available to spend on meaningful and fulfilling activities. For me, that means reading and enjoying my friendships. What could it mean for you?

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Minimalism in the Workplace

If you feel swamped by hard copies of documents, 21,000 unread emails, or just too much clutter in your office, know that you're not alone. Taking a minimalist approach in your workspace can help you reclaim your time, sanity, and satisfaction with work.

It has been a while since I wrote anything for this blog. I decided in May to quit the job I had and take on a new, similar but more challenging role elsewhere. The change has been, without a doubt, the best career move I could ever have made. Having just cleared out one office to move into a new one 30 miles away, I felt it was a good time to tackle the topic of minimalism in the office and workplace. I have always been fairly good about keeping my office and desk tidy and free of clutter, even before I was a minimalist. In this post I want to share my methods with any readers who need a little help achieving a tidy desk space and "Inbox Zero".

For starters, I have always treated my offices and cubicles as the designated place for work projects. The office is a place to focus specifically on what you get paid to do, whether you love your job or not. With those thoughts in mind, I keep a tidy office by:
  • Limiting the amount of random paper clutter - I do make to-do lists with some frequency. Anything that isn't a helpdesk ticket generally goes on a to-do list for me. Once the to-do list is complete, I throw away the list, or shred it if it contained any sensitive task details.
  • Keeping just a couple of notebooks or binders - I take notes at both formal and informal meetings. Sometimes, I have the luxury of taking notes in a proper notebook. Most of the time, however, I have to make do with a scratch pad or stack of sticky notes. After meetings where I only had informal notes jotted down, I copy the contents by writing them into a single, larger notebook dedicated to meeting notes if I expect I'll need to reference them later. This usually helps me remember information, and keeps everything in one place if I need to digitize it or type it for process documentation purposes later.
  • Scheduling monthly or quarterly note purges - I've always found that taking physical notes with pen and paper helps me remember them better. However, after a few months of meetings, a notebook can get weighed down and full with information that didn't need to be remembered for so long, or is now outdated. I set aside time every few months to go through my notebooks and discard or shred the meeting notes that have become irrelevant.
  • Discarding useless or broken supplies immediately - When I started my new job, I inherited my predecessor's office. The pen cup was overflowing with utensils. A small drawer unit was full of USB storage drives, half of which were not labeled. I threw out any pens that were dried up, tossed any USB drives that were dead, and sorted the rest of them into those with installer media that I could use, blank drives, and drives with data for my boss to review. 
  • Not keeping a lot of personal mementos at work - While it is important for our senses of joy and happiness to decorate offices to reflect our personalities, I have always kept my desk tidy by limiting the number of intimately personal items I keep at work. I still decorate my office, but I choose to use wall space for pet photos and posters that bring me joy instead of adding sentimental--but clutter-causing--trinkets to my desk.
  • Set aside time each day to tackle emails - As IT support, I do not have the luxury of setting aside blocks of the day to check my emails; instead, I have to keep my email open to watch for incoming tickets. I have organized my inbox with just four folders, and categorize all of my read emails into that system. I take just a couple of minutes toward the end of each day to sort my inbox, so when I come in the next morning it is clear and clean of yesterday's tickets and memos. It only takes a few minutes to do, and it helps me maintain "Inbox Zero".
  • Organize documents, but use few folders - It is very easy to get lost in a trap of "Now where did I save that?" when it comes to being responsible for a profusion of electronic documents. I find that using few folders, but giving them broader categories helps the most. In my case, I had folders for my typed notes, my PowerShell scripts, document design projects, my SQL scripts, and my daily data analysis tasks. I did not have many folders beyond that, and I always made sure to name the scripts and documents themselves descriptively so there would be no question as to what purpose each of them had.
Keeping a tidy office has a multitude of benefits. In addition to being able to focus more intently on work, I have found that reducing clutter has also: made my office easier to clean or disinfect; saved time because my notes are always in one place; and made it much easier to clean out my office before leaving one job for another. Reducing the digital clutter with just a few folders has benefits, too: it's easier to find important emails; it's easier to find important documents when I need to reference or share them; and it's easier to keep organized over time, which saves time. If you feel overwhelmed by your office because of clutter, adopting a minimalist approach will more than likely help you take back your sanity. Minimalism helps achieve a tidy office, and a tidy office is a more productive office.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Discarding and Regrets

As someone who strives to make minimalism accessible to everyone regardless of financial standing, living arrangement, or socioeconomic class, I feel the genuine need to be honest about the impacts of minimalism.

I want to discuss regrets (and/or lack thereof) as they relate to the discarding process. In particular, I want to answer one question:

Have you had any regrets about discarding a particular item?

Yes and no, for one item. I have been getting back into a few hobbies lately because I have been stuck at home due to Minnesota's Stay At Home order. The item I have thought about the most since discarding and donating it is a book about one of my hobbies.

I want to discuss first why I said "yes" in addition to no. Yes, I regret discarding the book because it was aesthetically pleasing. It was fun to flip through for ideas. It had some interesting recipes and projects in it that I wanted to adopt and adapt for my craft. And what made me regret discarding it the most was that it had a recipe I could have shared with a likewise crafty friend. I felt bad when I searched high and low for the book for a few minutes before realizing I had discarded it one of the last times I went through my craft book library. I was sad that I couldn't share the recipe inside with my friend. But that last bit brings me to why I also don't regret discarding it.

I answered "no" as well as yes because since I had last read the book, I'd come up with my own recipe that I could share with my friend. I remembered why I discarded the book--as much as I liked to flip through it, not much was valuable to me other than the pictures. The recipes were not particularly original, and they weren't quite "from scratch" enough for me. I remembered how much I liked the book when I first got it, but as I became more advanced and adept with my craft, it became less and less useful to me. I remember putting it in a donate box hoping that it would bring joy to someone whose interests were similar to my own. When I shared my own original recipe with my friend, she thanked me for it, and I realized then that her gratitude was proof that I really did not need to regret giving the book away.

Regret is a natural feeling that I'm sure every minimalist, experienced and new, has felt at some point. It's okay to regret giving an item away or donating it. Items are just things; they're replaceable. If there's a lesson that I would say I learned, though, it's that sometimes I can be overzealous with my discards. If I had kept the particular book I'd donated, I'd probably have spent time reading it on and off this week for more ideas... but I know I also would have gotten a little bored with it because many of its recipes were similar to those in another book I decided to keep. It's the balance of yes and no that can be difficult to find. But talking through the regret of discarding an item is helpful for confirming the choice to discard as the right decision to have made.

Tips for dealing with the regret of discarding an item:

  • Ask yourself: Did the item fulfill its original intended purpose?
    If yes, it's fine that it was discarded because it was well-used.
    If no, it's also fine that it was discarded because it could not fulfill its purpose.
  • For donated items, think about how happy they could be making another person right now.
  • Remember that items like books, trinkets, and anything purchased in a store can be replaced if your regret is so strong that you want to have an item back.
  • Think about why you discarded an item. Ask yourself why it was not bringing you joy when you discarded it.
  • Never, ever beat yourself up over discarding an item, even a sentimental one. We're all human. Sometimes we make mistakes and the best we can do is learn from them.
  • Things we discard are just that--things. Sometimes it's stuff. Sometimes it's junk. And honestly, sometimes it's junk/stuff/things we wish we'd kept. (But it's ultimately okay in the end that we didn't.)
I hope my honesty about my own regret helps others puzzle through their own. Not every item is meant to be discarded... but sometimes when we let an item go and think about it for a while, we realize we might want it back. In my case, I realize that I am content with the other books I have on the subject. What I have done to explore my regret is shared it, sort-of meditated on the item, and remembered why I discarded it in the first place. I will not be beating myself up about the decision to discard it any time soon. It was just a thing, and an easily-replaceable one at that should I ever decide I want it back. If it had been a sentimental item? Well, the memory of it would always be with me, and I could preserve the memory further by writing a journal entry about it or drawing a picture of it. I think it's important to remember: not all is lost when items are gone. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Last Few Days of My No-Spend Month

I chose March for a no-spend month simply because it seemed like the right time for me. It ties into minimalism because during a no-spend month, the focus is on bringing in only essential items. By cutting out nonessential items, I could focus on what I already had on-hand for fun and entertainment. One of my overarching goals is to make minimalism (and other habits that tie into it) more accessible. Here's how the last few days have gone.

Catch up here:
Week One of My No-Spend Month
Week Two of My No-Spend Month
Week Three of My No-Spend Month
Week Four of My No-Spend Month

March 29-31

I was determined to end the no-spend month strong. I think I did okay!

Day 29: It was a lazy day mostly spent playing Stardew Valley and watching some TV. I didn't have a whole lot going on during the day, save for working on a character for an online Dungeons & Dragons group that my best friend is leading. I spent a little bit of time on a sketch for my character's portrait, which was a fun creative pursuit. I cooked a big, healthy dinner in the evening and wound down for the night with tea.

Day 30: Time after work was spent playing a bit more Stardew Valley, but after that I worked on my D&D character sheet. Once I had the sheet mostly done, I spent a large chunk of the night working on my character sketch more. Getting artistic definitely made me feel good about the day. I had planned to walk with my best friend but it was too rainy for him; so we chatted while I sketched instead. I got to bed at a decent hour with tea and a book to read.

Day 31: I didn't play much Stardew Valley after work. I got about a day done in the game and then decided to go for a longer walk. Partway through the walk my best friend joined me (over the phone, of course) and we strolled and played Pokemon Go on and off for about an hour. Once I got back home from the walk, I got dinner going, filled out the census online, and then put together an IT community article. I ended the night with tea and another chapter in the book I'd recently started reading.

No-Spend Month Summary 

Spending Overview: Outside of regular bills, one of my financial goals was to keep the grocery spend down. In the end I was well under the usual monthly grocery spend of $320 for the "big haul" at the start of each month with about $100 for supplemental trips throughout the rest of the month. This month's grocery spend came to $236 for food and $93 for household supplies. Part of the savings came from yet another Imperfect Foods box failing to be delivered--this time it was FedEx damaging the box--so I just didn't have as much food as I expected to. But even if that box had arrived, I still would have been about $40-50 under the usual spend just from cutting out junk items like chips, sparkling water, and pop.

I had also set aside $60 for spending on band merch at concerts. With so many concerts cancelled due to the spread of coronavirus and various states' and countries' lockdowns, I purchased merch online to support the bands I loved the most and had to miss out on seeing in person. On this category, I overspent by $24... but it was money well over-spent.

I paid off my credit cards, and plan now to use them only for groceries and safer online shopping--expenses that are easy to pay off immediately. I also boosted my emergency fund to a comfortable $2,000 mark. Overall, I put 41% of my take-home pay into savings over the course of the month.

Unforeseen Benefits: Eating healthier from cutting out convenience foods helped me end a weight loss plateau and lose just over seven pounds over the course of the month. Without the convenience foods, I was consuming less in refined sugars and noticed less bloating and clearer skin. Playing more video games kept me mentally engaged so I didn't eat out of boredom. Taking the time to cook my own food and bake my own bread helped me to start fixing my relationship with food. The more time I spent in the kitchen chopping veggies and prepping meals, the less I felt compelled to overeat--I slowed down and started to appreciate the results of my efforts. I saved a lot more for leftovers so I could enjoy a particularly good meal more than once.

I also gained a better understanding of what I do and don't need to be happy, which I think will help with my spending habits moving forward. Of course, a few things did come up that we actually need now that the no-spend month is over, but we had a month to decide just how necessary they were.

I look forward to doing no-spend months in the future. There were definitely some tough days but overall it felt worth it to cut out all the junk expenditures for a month. And on the minimalist side of things, since I had a smaller, predetermined budget for "fun" expenses, I didn't bring anything new into the house that I didn't absolutely want to have. I didn't manage to get everything on my to-do list done, but I also didn't add any clutter to my home. I'm willing to call my No-Spend Month of March a success.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Week Four of My No-Spend Month

It's my goal as a minimalist to make all aspects of minimalism feel more accessible. It's certainly not a lifestyle for everyone and that's perfectly fine. However, I love the benefit minimalist living has on my finances, and I wanted to keep sharing how my No-Spend month is going, week-by-week. Here's week four.

Week of March 22-28

Reading over last week's recap, I noticed how depressed I've started to feel since social distancing measures started. I decided to commit to making week four better as much as I could. I did okay some days, but others I definitely failed. Not spending a lot of money this month has been fairly easy, but there are some things I've missed out on and a couple of things I couldn't pass up this week.

Day 22: I had a good start to the day with homemade peanut butter cookies and fruit for breakfast, then watching TV over coffee with the husband. After lunch, I decided to put a sweatshirt on and take a walk around the lake. I strolled for an hour and fifteen minutes, playing Pokemon Go and talking to my best friend via a voice call, then texts as the wind got too strong. Unfortunately my evening did not end on a high note; I got an email saying my Imperfect Foods delivery was cancelled, so I had to go into town to get groceries. Shopping amidst the whole coronavirus panic was not an enjoyable experience, and the quantity of food I got to match what I'd be missing from Imperfect cost about 30% more than Imperfect. But, I secured food and was able to work on a meal plan for the week.

Day 23: This was the start of my second week working from home, and it definitely started to feel like the weekdays and weekends were blurring together. I tried to make the most of the dull moments of the day by baking lots of bread and buns. My Imperfect Foods customization window opened again so I picked out what I could, hoping that this order wouldn't get cancelled like the last. I finished up this week's meal plan using only what we had on hand, to err on the side of caution. Dinner was fun to make, as I'd made chicken fajitas. Unlike Day 22, my night ended on a higher note.

Day 24: I used what would have been my normal breaks at work to make a batch of whole wheat sandwich buns; I made the dough in the bread machine then divided it and baked it in the oven. After work, I played some Stardew Valley then heated up some leftovers for dinner. With TV on in the background after dinner, I worked on a little art project in one of my sketchbooks. The creativity was a welcome relief from the overwhelming ennui and depression of the past week's circumstances.

Day 25: Stardew Valley continued to bring me some after-work joy. Once I finished a couple days in the game, I made an experimental and delicious dinner. The husband and I ate together while we watched some TV. I got a notification that one of my favorite musicians added merch to his shop. I still had a lot left from my concert budget, so I picked up two limited edition items. With so many tours cancelled, I hoped I could still support my favorites by getting things from their shops. I did go over the budget I'd initially set, but given the circumstances I think it was fine. My night ended with excitement and anticipation of the band merch I ordered. Knowing that I could do something to support a favorite artist made me feel good.

Day 26: After yet more Stardew Valley after work, this was a day for getting some necessary shopping done online. We ran out of dishwasher detergent, and a homemade alternative didn't get us the results we'd hoped for. Apparently people panic-bought a lot of dishwasher detergent, because it took me several hours searching a few sites to find something suitable. On top of that, I spent much more than I had hoped because the minimum order quantity was 6 bottles. Ouch. I also needed to bump up the shipment date on my pets' food because the kitten started to run low on her crunchies and the dog was running out of treats. But I felt good knowing that I got some necessary items on the way.

Day 27: Yes, I played more Stardew Valley after work. However, I also had an accountability walk-date with my best friend who's trying to lose weight with me. We spent some time talking on the phone as we walked through our respective towns, pausing every so often to spin PokeStops in Pokemon Go. I walked for just over an hour. Once home, I took a warm shower (it was pretty cold outside on the walk) then got dinner going. I ended the night watching some TV with the husband, then talking for a while about our various stresses and the virus situation. Talking helped me feel better about everything going on, and I called it an early night for a Friday.

Day 28: After a good, long sleep, I spent a lot of the day watching TV and playing Stardew Valley. I got a few chores done, primarily in the kitchen by getting some dishes washed and cleaning up the butcher block table for another round of oiling soon. I ended the night happy from baking a double batch of peanut butter cookies while watching some TV.

Baking has been my therapy lately, keeping me happy and occupied and staving off depression from social distancing. I've also taken advantage of having games to play like Stardew Valley and Pokemon Go. Although I did go over my "support bands" budget from the money I had set aside from the end of February, it's an expense I am not willing to beat myself up about. More of my "fun money" in April will go to supporting bands I love since most of their upcoming tours were cancelled. I have just a few more days of the no-spend month to get through and I think they'll go well. The month so far hasn't been without its ups and downs, but the no-spend challenge has definitely been worthwhile.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Week Three of My No-Spend Month

It's my goal as a minimalist to make all aspects of minimalism feel more accessible. It's certainly not a lifestyle for everyone and that's perfectly fine. However, I love the benefit minimalist living has on my finances, and I wanted to keep sharing how my No-Spend month is going, week-by-week. Here's week three!

Week of March 15-21

Last week was difficult but I realized a few things that I could apply to this week, the rest of the no-spend month, and to life in general. I realized that when I get to be creative, I feel good. I realized that when I make myself slow down and concentrate on everything from putting away clean laundry to chopping veggies for dinner, that I enjoy the time spent being focused and intentional. I'll be applying creativity and intentionality into as much of this week as I can.

Day 15: A third lazy Sunday eased me into the third week of the no-spend month. I watched TV and enjoyed fresh pots of tea through most of the morning and early afternoon and just enjoyed having no pressing matters to attend to. Over coffee mid-morning, I worked on a meal plan for the week aimed at using up any foods we have on-hand. I've tried to do very minimal grocery shopping this month to make use of the excess foods in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. After a lunchtime snack, I got dinner going in the crock pot. Once that was sorted I watched a bit more TV and then finished up the blog post about Week Two of the no-spend month.

Day 16: I took the day off work for a much-needed mental health day. I brewed a few pots of tea throughout the day to help relieve stress. My customization window on my Imperfect Foods box opened, so I spent a good chunk of the afternoon picking produce and meat and thinking about what kinds of meals I could make for next week. The highlight of the night was a healthy dinner followed up by a cup of maple syrup-flavored tea.

Day 17: Back at work I was kept busy until just after 5pm. Having things to do at work definitely makes a no-spend month easier. Once home, I did a couple of quick chores and got another healthy dinner going. I've gained a real appreciation for taking time to prepare and cook healthy meals which really helps to improve my mood as I wind down after work. Over a gin & tonic at the end of the night, I totaled up my grocery spend for the month so far, which I plan to report in the final post for the month.

Day 18: I worked half the day at work, and then started two weeks of work-from-home for social distancing given the coronavirus outbreak. I took the time today after work to call my best friend, which instantly relaxed me after a full work day. After the call, I cooked up another healthy dinner and watched TV with the husband while we ate. The night was still young by the time we finished with dinner and I realized I hadn't done a good job of updating this post with a summary of what I did each day. Oops! Once I caught up, I started making a meal plan for next week using the various meats and produce I picked out on Day 16. I ended the night with a big mug of tea and chatting with friends on Discord.

Day 19: I spent the day after work cooking a healthy dinner, watching some TV while we ate, then treated myself to some self-care. After a face mask and a shower, I started winding down for the night with a book and a Discord chat with a friend. It was a pretty uneventful day save for being busy with work.

Day 20: Working from home I decided to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Work was very busy all day. A while after I clocked out, I made a healthy dinner of rice and shakshuka to make use of some pantry and fridge items. I spent some time decompressing by listening to music and chatting with friends. My night ended with playing with the dog then reading a book. Social distancing started to wear me down so I didn't have energy for much all evening.

Day 21: I started off the morning baking a batch of peanut butter cookies. After a while I got a big batch of homemade pulled pork going for dinner. Feeling isolated because of social distancing I wanted to fight off depression by writing a positive letter to myself about my goals and my supportive friend group. Baking and cooking took my mind off of some of the social distancing. Beyond that I watched a whole lot of TV and chatted with friends on Discord as they were available. I ended the night watching a movie with the husband, then read a few chapters of a book.

This week was emotionally difficult because of starting the effort of social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. I did my best to cook and bake with intention but it was hard to only be able to talk to friends online. However, I didn't spend any money so it was another successful week to count for the no-spend month.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Less Mess, Less Stress: Minimalism for the Stressed Millennial

I was delighted to find that one of my favorite and most accessible minimalists, Marie Kondo, is a Millennial like me. Millennial women, like our Gen X or Baby Boomer mothers, have had to face the stress of balancing family life with wanting to maintain a career. But the Millennial generation in general, regardless of gender, is overall stressed out with an economy of stagnant wages, high student debt, and difficulty achieving a work-life balance that gets more complicated as we "settle down" in our late 20s to mid-30s. We might ask...
  • How can we make time for starting a family if we don't have the finances or the space to support one?
  • How can we make time for our social and personal priorities when life starts to feel like it's all work and chores? 
  • How can we live our best lives if the world around us seems indifferent or unsupportive?
Minimalism (and the practice of mindfulness that comes with it) can help answer those questions. Becoming a minimalist is not something that will happen overnight, but the changes one makes daily on the path to minimalism can have immediate benefits. With fewer material items, we can make space for starting a family. With less obsession over acquiring new items, we can start to fix our financial situations. With better focus, we can ignore or cut out the unsupportive and negative forces in our lives. If you're willing to start on the path to minimalism, I'd like to offer a few tasks to complete for yourself:
  • Identify your top priorities. Are you a family person, or do you prefer to be solo? Do you prefer staying home with books and games, or going out to socialize over coffee and other drinks? 
  • Think about your hobbies. Is your space set up to promote staying active in your hobbies? Or do you feel drained when you look around?
  • Connect with the spaces you have. Sit in the middle of each room, close your eyes, and breathe in deep. Is your breath shaky because the space or mess stresses you out? Do you feel anxious about being in the room?
  • Share with your partner, roommate, or a close friend. It usually helps to involve someone you're close to with the above tasks and questions. Even if they don't "get" minimalism, having a human sounding-board can help you clarify your own wants and needs. Who knows, you may even end up with someone who wants to explore minimalism with you!
There are no wrong answers when you answer these questions honestly. With your priorities and hobbies in mind, imagine what your space should look like to support those ideals. The hardest part about becoming a minimalist is the part where you get started. I won't lie and say that the decluttering and discarding process is fun 100% of the time. The first few days, weeks, maybe months, of decluttering might feel rough. However once the excess is gone and the resultant messes are tidied, you'll probably start feeling like you can breathe easier in your space.

There are a few best practices of getting started with minimalism that I have come up with for Millennials (and, well, anyone really):
  • Create a mood board or sketch out how you want your space to look. It's important to start with a vision of how you want your space to look when the discarding is done and the clutter is gone. Your vision doesn't need to be perfect, but it should be something you can happily use as motivation to get started on your journey toward minimalism.
  • Never be hard on yourself. If you're having a hard time discarding something, it's okay. Tough items can always be saved for later. Maybe some days you just won't feel into decluttering. Know that it's okay--everyone has "off" days. If you feel like you're in a funk for too long, talk to someone you know will make you feel better and help you get back on track.
  • Celebrate the little victories. Treasure and remember the moment when you discard your first difficult item. Congratulate yourself, because action speaks louder than words. Make a list of accomplishments as you go along. For example, my personal biggest accomplishment was discarding over 90 books in one month and donating them all.
  • Tailor the decluttering process to your own needs. Maybe decluttering and discarding by category doesn't work especially well for you. Don't be afraid to go room-by-room instead if that's the easiest method for you.
  • Find supportive friends/family. There are some individuals who treat minimalism like a fad that isn't worthwhile, and there will always be people who try to step into your space and say, "You can't get rid of that!" While you're decluttering and discarding, don't be afraid to cut out the people who you feel would hinder your progress. Keep lines of communication open with people who are supportive of you, and let them know when you need to be cheered on a bit to keep going.
Minimalism has a lot of benefits. A space without clutter requires less time spent doing chores to maintain. Shifting focus off of buying material items can help fix finances. Minimalism can also help us reclaim our own good and healthy head space as much as it helps us reclaim living space. If you're a stressed Millennial like I am, I encourage you to explore minimalism as a way to remove stressful forces from your life. Put yourself first, and you can make more room in your life for what's really important.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Week Two of My No-Spend Month

It's my goal as a minimalist to make all aspects of minimalism feel more accessible. It's certainly not a lifestyle for everyone and that's perfectly fine. However, I love the benefit minimalist living has on my finances, and I wanted to keep sharing how my No-Spend month is going, week-by-week. Here's week two!

Week of March 8-14

So far so good. Bills have been paid and lingering credit card balances I had were paid off. This week, the urge to shop hit me early on... but I got through it.

Day 8: It was another lazy Sunday. I didn't sleep in as late as I had hoped, but I had a good day overall. Over coffee, I watched cartoons with the husband. Afterwards, I lounged around and read a book for a while and decided midway through that I could enjoy the last few chapters in the bath. I treated myself to some self-care in the form of a bubble bath and a bubbling face mask while I read and recharged. The highlight of the day was cooking a simple but tasty and healthy dinner before winding down for the night with another book.

Day 9: I had a very bad day at work and spent most of the time from 8:30am to well after 5pm feeling angry about the developments in a series of meetings I'd had. I decided to channel my displeasure into something constructive by touching up my resume and applying for a new job elsewhere. Afterward, I wanted pretty badly to shop for books, but I decided to look at my credit card rewards instead. I didn't order any reward gift cards or even touch any online bookstores. Honestly, it was a hellish day and it was hard to avoid shopping to take my mind off the day... but I made it through in the end.

Day 10: It was at least a better day than Day 9. Work kept me occupied most of the day as usual. Other than that, I talked to some friends about art projects, doodled and wrote poetry in a sketchbook, and thought of names for a minizine idea I'd like to pitch to the Creative Healing Space once I got to talk again to the friend who founded it. After unwinding from work, I put together a healthy dinner with meat and vegetables from my Imperfect Foods box and enjoyed some TV and chatted with the husband. I also made some time to play a video game (Stardew Valley) which was really relaxing.

Day 11: I had a slow day and ended up comparison shopping for a color laser printer to purchase once the no-spend month is over. I wound down from work by taking a walk through the neighborhood. Dinner was red beans and rice in the crock pot, which I put together over my lunch break so it was ready for the usual dinner time. Like day 10, I spent time chatting with my husband about things that were on our minds. We ate slowly and enjoyed an episode of a show we've been watching, and by the time the episode was over it was almost bedtime. I'm noticing more in this no spend month that slowing down makes time so much more enjoyable.

Day 12: My plans to see a concert later this month dissolved in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. I found some new shows and movies to watch. I spent a chunk of the night doing chores, which was fine. I do like to have the house in order so chores tend not to be very boring to me. The day overall was kind of a non-day, and the disappointment of the concert being cancelled weighed pretty heavily on me. However, one of the bands I was going to see announced that a merch shop would be online soon so I had that to look forward to. After all, I still had some money I'd been saving since February to spend at the concert.

Day 13: I spent most of the day looking forward to relaxing on the weekend. After work, I cooked a healthy dinner, and came up with a to-do list for Saturday and Sunday. With the concert cancelled, I decided to use the money I had set aside from February to buy merch to support the bands like I would have in person. To end the night on a happy note, the husband and I stayed up late and watched another movie together.

Day 14: I slept in late and spent a chunk of the morning baking and cleaning the kitchen while chatting on and off with my best friend. The husband and I watched cartoons over coffee and generally lounged around all day. In the evening, we cooked another healthy dinner with foods from the Imperfect Foods box we got back on Day 6. The night ended with some quick chores, playing with the dog, and watching another movie. Lazy days are definitely necessary, and they're good for no-spend challenges. For me, it was important to balance the tougher days with an easier one.

I won't lie and say this whole week was easy. Throughout the week, I was faced with a day that made me angry, and another that left me sad. I did have the temptation to shop but I think I did a good job resisting it. I had a lot of opportunities to think creatively, and came to the realization that slowing down and making an event of anything I do (like cooking dinner) makes the days more fun. Because some plans have gotten cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, I've had to find more things that I can do at home. The no-spend month did feel like a real challenge this past week, and I do have a small shopping list to take care of once April hits... but this week at least showed that I do have willpower even on bad days. There are only two weeks and a few days left to go, and I'm going to make them as fun as I can.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Week One of My No-Spend Month

It's my goal as a minimalist to make all aspects of minimalism feel more accessible. It's certainly not a lifestyle for everyone and that's perfectly fine. However, I love the benefit minimalist living has on my finances, and I'll be detailing how my No-Spend month goes, week-by-week.

Week of March 1-7

The day before our no-spend month started, we made a small grocery trip to restock fresh meat and a few convenience foods we knew we'd need throughout the next month. Beyond that, we have started to rethink our grocery strategy which is normally a $300+ big haul at the start of the month plus a couple other smaller trips for convenience items. This month we'll be putting an imperfect foods delivery service to the test to see if it can meaningfully save us money on the essentials.

Day 1: It was a lazy Sunday which was the best start to a no-spend month I could have asked for. I had a late night with friends over until 1:30 AM, drinking loose leaf tea and decaf coffee with me and the husband. Saturday I sold a piece of furniture for $60, which will pay for my "cheat" day to see a concert that I've been planning on going to since January. Day one proper, however, was spent sleeping in late, sipping loose leaf all day, and enjoying some self-care in the form of a face mask and stripping off yesterday's already-chipping manicure. I did have a friend share a picture of a goodie bag he got with a tea order which, I won't lie, made it tempting to order more tea. But I snapped myself away from that temptation when I realized just how much tea I already have, and how long it will take to get through. Despite having a "lazy" day, I worked on getting a lot of laundry done to start the month off on the right foot. All it cost to have a couple weeks of outfits ready was my time and some soap and water.

Day 2: This was the first work day of the no-spend month, so I had the benefit of zero shopping opportunities between 8am and 5pm. Throughout the day, I got messages from friends asking me to attend a creative writing workshop at the very new local Creative Healing Space. The timing was good enough--the event ran from 5:30 to 7, and I stayed until about 7:30. That was two hours spent networking, getting some decent writing done, and not spending any money to have fun. It was a very refreshing event and I met so many cool people that I had never before seen in town. Even in a small town where "everybody knows everybody", there's always someone new to meet. As a bonus, the friend who runs it sent me home with a box of cookies to share with my husband; it was an unexpected treat, and a very pleasant one that made a no-spend month feel like it wouldn't be a chore.

Day 3: I won tickets from a drawing at work to see a concert in town. The tickets on their own for the show would have been $20 per person, and even if I had paid that much the show would have been well worth it. However, with the point of a no-spend month being to not spend money, the concert was a great way to have fun for free as a perk from work. I also signed up for Imperfect Foods delivery; non-convenience groceries like produce and meat are still free game in the no-spend month. This was a $60 grocery spend for several pounds of meat and fish, and lots of produce we frequently use in our cooking. Day 6 will be the first hint of whether or not imperfect grocery delivery can save us money long-term.

Day 4: The first three days of the no-spend month flew by. I had a job interview today which took a lot of my focus until it concluded. Work in general kept me occupied, and I used my breaks to write and read instead of shop. I got a craving for Chinese food, but opted to stay home and cook a stir fry from scratch instead. I came to the realization that not every day in the no-spend month was going to be easy, but I accepted that boring or slow days are just fine. After cooking and taking care of some quick chores, I spent the night baking my own hamburger buns to test a recipe.

Day 5: It was the first pay period of the month, and instead of putting 10% of my take-home pay aside for discretionary spending like usual, I put it toward my remaining credit card balance. I mailed off the utility bills, giving me two fewer things to worry about for the rest of the month. After work, I watched some free movies, made an experimental dinner with some foods we had on hand, then wound down with some sci-fi.

Day 6: The Imperfect Foods delivery arrived. I looked forward to it most of the week. Not all of the produce was a cost savings versus shopping in a store, but the sheer amount and quality of food I got for $60 felt well-worth it. It's several weeks worth of fresh produce, and I decided to roast up some of the veggies for dinner. For fun, I came up with a meal plan for the next week that would use more of the meats and produce we got in the box. I made a small grocery trip in for canned goods and milk, then spent the night baking hamburger buns from scratch and watching a movie with the husband.

Day 7: A lazy Saturday at home with no obligations to anyone or anything is always soothing. I slept in--a real rarity for me--and then decided to spend the late morning and early afternoon baking. Later in the evening, we played with the dog outside for a while, then made dinner and watched another movie together. It was a slow but very relaxing day.

Week one was easy with no real urge to shop. Of course it entailed spending a lot of time at home, but I had a couple of free things to do out in town and at home I took advantage of some free movies. Cooking and baking are a lot of fun for me, so I tried to fill more evenings with making healthy dinners and baking breads. If you try a no-spend month, or even just a week, look at what you have on hand for cooking/baking (or any other hobby) and see what you can make with it! Look for free events in your city or town and attend them--like me, you might end up meeting some cool people who share an interest or two with you. Overall, I think week one was a great success!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Minimalism and Mental Detox

Minimalism affects more than just the amount of clutter in living spaces. It has great mental benefits as well. I have been making an effort the past couple of years to get out of my comfort zone--to sort of declutter my stock of anxieties. As an introvert, that means I've pushed myself to go to networking events, work lunches, and more friends' parties. The other night, I went to a creative writing workshop at the new local Creative Healing Space. While there I failed to talk about how I was a blogger, or what creative projects I was working on. I was a bit nervous because I was in a much larger group of people than usual when I go to networking events or hang out with friends. I knew the event would be worth it at least if for no other reason than to support my other friends in attendance. I was not expecting getting as much out of it for myself as I did.

After the event concluded, one of my friends sent me a few messages about the event and things we talked about there. I finally mentioned that I was blogging about minimalism, and she offered a very insightful reply that reminded me of one of the reasons I started a journey toward minimalism in the first place.

"I feel like minimalism can open up a world of satisfaction. I know too many people who spend their money as a dopamine release, then feel terrible when they finally have what they ordered."

Before minimalism...
Reading my friend's reaction to minimalism reminded me that I used to be the kind of person who reveled in retail therapy, but once the reality of having more items set in I would feel empty again. I felt buyer's remorse pretty soon after a shopping spree, and I knew that returning everything would make me feel worse because it meant I would have to acknowledge my mistake and take the time to correct it. I also felt the same about going out to bars as the only way to socialize, always spending and drinking too much, and feeling worse for wear the next day. Buying drinks was the same as shopping for me in terms of getting that dopamine release--I felt great in the moment, but terrible after the fact. In my journey toward finding my own comfortable version of minimalism, I have gradually gotten over the concept of buyer's remorse, and now I no longer use "retail therapy" (or buying drinks just to socialize) to cope with unpleasant moments.

Mental detox à la Minimalism...
Intention matters. When I need to buy something now, I buy with intention instead of buying on impulse. I don't feel the rush of dopamine followed by an emotional crash into feeling empty when I make intentional and necessary purchases.
Look to the past. When I want to buy something, I think of the similar items I have discarded in the past. I realize that generally, I can make do perfectly with an item I decided to keep.
Slow down and think critically. Shopping is no longer my therapy. It's a research opportunity and a chance to make sure that I am bringing the right new thing into my home. I look up reviews, compare the item I want or need to similar items, and make an informed purchase decision.
Shift your focus. I still find joy and excitement in shopping, but shopping is no longer a tool to escape daily stressors. Now, shopping is a means to bring home items that will actually improve my quality of life.
Make your own fun. With social drinking reduced in my life, I've been pushed to make my own fun when I want to socialize. Instead of expensive nights out at the bar, I've asked friends to come over for inexpensive nights in with tea and coffee while we chat and share music. The quality of socializing this way is higher, with a much lower monetary cost.
Declutter your space, then declutter your mind. Decluttering and discarding items means you have fewer physical barriers in your way. There's less to trip over, less to have to move out of the way when cleaning, less stuff to worry about. When you have fewer material things to worry about, you make space in your mind that you can use to rearrange habits and emotions and anxieties. With the different parts of your mind in clearer view, you can start to confront and discard the negative feelings and thoughts.

Because of minimalism...
I'm tethered to and grounded by the things that are important to me, but I'm not bound tightly to them. Minimalism has served as a powerful tool for mental detox, helping to change less-than-ideal behaviors and find new ways to enjoy myself. I can only hope that minimalism will help others in the same ways.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Never a Dull Space: Collections and Decor in Minimalist Design

I think a common misconception with minimalist interior design is that walls are to remain bare, shelves are to have as few things as possible on them, and everything should be clean and white. None of these ideas make a space really feel like home--I certainly do not want to dwell in a sterile-white house that's been stripped of personality due to the conflation of minimalism with austerity.

A search for "minimalist interior design" yielded rooms that fit the same pattern: white walls and ceiling, light grey or white furniture, no art or photos on the walls... just blank, fairly empty rooms. It's minimalism taken to the extreme where every room is clean and pretty, but incredibly dull. That, to me, is when collections and decor are necessary in minimalist design.

Some might think that minimalism means you can no longer collect a kind of item that you appreciate aesthetically. I disagree. Collections of objects can bring us joy, and when put on display those items can breathe life and personality into a room. If we live somewhere that doesn't have some aspect of our personality on display, then we're just existing there, not truly living there. Personally, I collect gold-framed mirrors and decorative handmade papers. I use these items as decor to break up large walls that threaten to make spaces feel small and devoid of energy. The handmade papers are put in simple frames and displayed like posters. Having something on the walls has always just made a place feel like home to me--whether that something is just a framed sheet of decorative paper, a movie or game poster, or just a mirror.

At the start of this post, I stated that I don't like the conflation of minimalism with austerity. No one should be shamed by some upper-middle-class minimalists into getting rid of a collection of objects that makes one feel at home, all for the sake of having less. Although having less is the general goal of modern minimalism, it's pointless if having less of a particular thing makes you feel like less than yourself. I love having books. They've been a defining element in the designs of my spaces for my entire life. Although I no longer buy books just for the sake of having them, I like to keep those that I've actually read and genuinely enjoyed so that I can enjoy them again in the future. I will always have my books prominently displayed because they show new friends that constantly learning and constantly delving into new worlds are important activities for me. Many of my friends collect figurines of their favorite characters from video games and shows. My advice even if they want to become minimalists is to keep their collections and put them on display.

Our homes should be just that: homes. They should not be treated as blank canvases forever. Bookshelves, shelves on the walls, the walls themselves are some of the greatest and most accessible spaces for us to use to turn apartments and houses into homes. You can be a minimalist and still have collections. Minimalism today is all about lessening the things you don't want or need in your life to make time and space for the things that matter. I encourage every minimalist, especially those who confuse minimalism for self-inflicted austerity, to have and display a collection as part of their decor. You're uniquely you--let where you dwell reflect that beautiful fact.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

No-Spend Month Activities

In my last post, I detailed some of my plans for making March my first No-Spend Month with my husband. We had an expensive year in 2019, primarily because we took the leap from renting an apartment to buying a house. We still paid debts off as we saved money for a down payment. Some of our debts are still around, albeit reduced, but we want to eliminate them all the same. That's where a no-spend month comes in. My previous post details the discretionary spending we're cutting out for March, so I wanted to use this post to list some of the free activities we'll be taking advantage of throughout the month.

Home Improvement: No house we saw was 100% perfect for us, but the one we chose is getting close. There are no shortage of projects we'll be doing with the materials and tools we already have on-hand.
  • Painting our guest bathroom with leftover paint colors from other rooms
    (going for light grey walls and funky turquoise cabinetry!)
  • Organizing my craft room
  • Touching up paint in a couple of rooms
  • Organizing the utility/laundry room in the basement
  • Organizing and setting up work spaces in the garage
  • Deep clean each room one by one
Leisure: Although home improvement is immense fun for me, the husband wanted to have a long list of "actually fun" things to do. I do my best to get resourceful when I know we're trying not to spend money, so I came up with a few things as well.

  • Play Stardew Valley
  • Learn any board game we bought but haven't played yet
  • Have a party with what we have on-hand
  • See a free-to-us concert from winning tickets at work
  • Play "Chopped" with our pantry, fridge, and freezer 
  • Bake cakes and cookies together
  • Walk around the lake and play Pokemon Go, weather permitting
  • Game night with friends
  • Tea and coffee party with friends
  • Write music together
  • Write (code for him, blogging for me)
  • Make more time to read
  • Go to free community events at the creative center
I do have one "cheat" day for the month, which is to take a short trip to stay with a friend and see a concert together. It'll cost about a tank of gas and $25 for the show ticket, but I plan to not spend money out of my bank account by selling a few pieces of furniture in local swap groups. It's a show I've planned to see since January, and it was one thing I wasn't willing to sacrifice for the no-spend month. Planning is really the key, and although it might sound like yet another justification to cheat I think it's also important to leave some leeway in any plan. When we go too hard on ourselves, we're destined to fail. So if you have a no-spend month... I'd say it's okay to throw in a little cheat for your sanity and happiness.

Here's to planning a successful no-spend month for March 2020!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Planning a No-Spend Month

One major benefit to minimalism is that it helps break bad spending habits. Financial budgeting seems to coincide with or closely follow the switch to a minimalist lifestyle. A particularly interesting budgeting trend in recent years has been to challenge oneself to no-spend weeks, no-spend months, or even no-spend years.

The concept is fairly simple. For the duration of the "no-spend" challenge, participants can only spend money on basic necessities like utilities, groceries, and other regular bills like credit card or loan payments. Expenditures like ordering takeout, dining out, and shopping for clothes are some examples of things you'd bar yourself from spending money on during the no-spend period.

I have challenged my husband to join me in a no-spend month for March 2020. Here are the usual "fun money" categories that we won't be spending money on for a month:
  • Beverages including loose leaf tea, soda, alcohol, bottled mineral water. My husband doesn't consume alcohol, and I want to downsize my bar. I'll be drinking only what I have on-hand. We have plenty of loose leaf tea already, so even the most tempting new additions to our tea bar will have to wait a month (if they're still enticing after a month of thinking on it).
  • Dining out including takeout. This is a fairly major category, as we're used to going out once every week or two for a fancy dinner. Instead, we'll make dinner at home every night.
  • Game subscriptions/transactions. We have plenty of board games as well as video games that are free to play. Although game subscriptions and games with paid items don't cost us much month-over-month, we've just been gravitating more toward board games lately anyway.
  • Movie rentals. We'll be keeping our streaming subscriptions active because we already track them in our monthly budget sheets, but we won't be spending extra money on renting movies that cost extra on top of the subscription fees. 
  • Weekend shopping trips. Normally when the weather is decent, we'll drive an hour to a bigger city and go shopping. We analyzed our purchases and realized too many of them fell into the impulse/useless/expensive consumable categories. This will probably be the biggest point of savings in our challenge.
A no-spend month might feel like a pointless challenge if there is no end goal for the money saved during the month. So where will the money we won't be spending in March go? Here are a few plans we have for that cash:

  • Get rid of my credit card debt
  • Make a larger payment on the husband's car
  • Start investing again
  • Put away into savings for our kitchen renovation
  • Put away into personal savings for emergency funds
Both the husband and I are looking forward to our no-spend month. If it goes well, we intend to make every other month or so a no-spend month just to see how quickly we can tackle any remaining debts and reach our savings goals... and hopefully these plans inspire others to try no-spend challenges as well!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Decluttering with Limited Time and Energy

One of my goals with this blog is to make a more minimalist lifestyle accessible to other folks like me who work full-time and don't have unlimited stores of time or energy to declutter. Decluttering, while it does take a lot of time and effort to complete, generally has such a tremendous physical and mental payoff that it's worth doing.

So how does one get started decluttering with limited time and energy? Here are tips that have proven to be the most useful to me:
  • Disengage emotionally from clutter objects. This is hard at first but gets easier. We've probably all had at least a few garments in the closet that we were saving in case we lost/gained weight, or a stack of birthday cards from years gone by. Practice this emotional disengagement by asking the item "Why are you here when I can't use you?" It may seem harsh compared to the generally upbeat "Thank you for serving me in the past" connection that other methods of minimalism/decluttering have, but sometimes when you feel like there's no time or energy to tackle clutter, emotionally disengaging can be useful. 
  • Set a timer. This is particularly useful if you feel like you have limited time. Setting a timer for 10 minutes can have a big impact if you start the timer with sharp focus. To me personally, 5 minutes never feels like enough, but 10-20 minutes is more than enough time to make a dent in any pile of clutter. Just don't let anything else distract you.
  • Work while you wait. This tip goes along with the "set a timer" tip above. I like to cook and bake at home, which of course involves waiting for food to get hot enough. Instead of zoning out on my phone or computer, I'll set the kitchen timer for how long it'll be until food is ready, and use the waiting time to tackle clutter.
  • Declutter before your usual wind-down time. I find it most useful to use the first 15-20 minutes after I get home from work to get rid of any clutter that has accumulated. This way, when I sit down to try to relax, I don't have a pile of mail to worry about or a collection of dirty tea and coffee mugs staring me down.
  • Get your family/roommates involved. If you live with other people, ask for help in decluttering any shared space. It's generally not a good idea to move or throw away anyone else's items, so if someone else's things are in the way, ask them kindly to help you organize. They'll benefit from a decluttered space, too!
  • Don't let perfection be the enemy of good enough. Getting a home to "maintenance level" takes a lot of work when you're just starting out as a minimalist. It took me many evenings after work and a lot of weekends to get my home to the point where it might only take an hour to completely declutter after a stressful work week. Clutter will always accumulate when you're busy, but once you make a habit (like setting timers) to tackle clutter in any free time, it will become more manageable. Don't let a temporary re-accumulation of clutter deter you. It happens to every minimalist whether they want to admit it or not.
A decluttered home can feel like a lofty, pie-in-the-sky ideal when you work full time and have to carefully balance work and life. However, it is possible to declutter if you go easy on yourself and accept the fact that a minimalist lifestyle--or simply a decluttered home--will take time to achieve. All it takes is time and patience with your surroundings and yourself.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Question on Minimalist Design

Today I'd like to answer a question from a friend who's just started to get into minimalism. I think it's a great question about minimalist design, so buckle in because my answer is going to be
l o n g.

Q: I see all these minimalism inspirational images online, and not only does everything look decluttered, but there seems to be a clear interior design theme as well (i.e. white/black/gray + accent color). How can I make my living space look more like those inspirational photos without spending thousands on new furniture/interior design?

 A: There are a lot of budget ways to get clean and sophisticated minimalist designs. I recommend starting with a mood board to collect your ideas. Collect all of your favorite photos of minimalist designs, and arrange them on a mood board. Play with paint cards from home improvement stores, and swatches from fabric stores until you find colors and textures that make you happy. Once you have a solid vision of what you want to achieve, you might find these tips helpful:
  • Don't buy into the need for "storage" furniture to solve clutter - While persistent clutter can be an indication that your current furniture isn't working for you, it can also be an indication that you just haven't found the best home for it yet. Sometimes the right home for clutter is in the trash bin, but other times it's just a matter of putting it with like items. Always analyze your need for an item or group of items before your commit to buying or building new furniture in which to store it. This is where the KonMari method of decluttering by item type helps a lot. Once you declutter properly, you'll have much less need for storage furniture.
  • Make use of vertical space - Clutter breeds easily if the floor is cluttered with furniture. However, wall-mounted shelves and freestanding slim bookshelves don't attract clutter quite like coffee tables do. The best way to reduce clutter is to find its hiding places and then either eliminate those places or just commit to keeping them clutter-free. I'm definitely guilty of having cluttered coffee tables, yet my shelves always have just the right amount of things on them and don't look cluttered. My excuse (and realization) is that the tables are so much easier for clutter to reach!
  • Paint your furniture and decor items - Nearly everything can be painted, not just walls! A single paint color can unify a collection of different or disparate items. Sometimes the shape or utility of an item is hard to pass up, but the color is either dreadful (cough... taupe) or just doesn't mesh well with the overall feel of a room. Mismatched wooden dining chairs can be sanded and painted with interior latex paint, chalk paint, or spray paint. Photo frames and vases are perfect candidates for a coat or two of spray paint to unify different shapes and textures into a cohesive set.
  • Start with DIY and upcycling before buying new - I used to be a college student with a very low budget for nice furniture and home decor. To this day, I still use a set of 4 dining chairs I got for free and repainted and reupholstered so they would all match (a project which cost about $35 for spray paint and fabric). They now sit around an 8-seater table that I built myself for a total of about $60. The other chairs I have acquired since then purposefully do not match, which lends an eclectic and energetic feeling to the dining room. When I needed a new computer desk, I built my own from reclaimed wood, a reclaimed filing cabinet, and a couple of hairpin legs. I not only got enough desktop space for my computer and printers, but I got a convenient place to store paper clutter like mortgage and tax documents.
I think I've nearly exhausted the reserve of core ideas I wanted to offer as answers here. Minimalism doesn't have to be an expensive lifestyle, and it really shouldn't be. The willingness to do tasks yourself and just think cleverly about the space you have available should go a long way toward keeping a new minimalist lifestyle affordable and enjoyable. 

Tenets for a Cozy Minimalist Home

Even as a minimalist, I still have no shortage of material goods that enhance my life or make me happy. Part of minimalism for me is creating spaces that make it easy to keep up the minimalist lifestyle.

Here are the core tenets I try to adhere to when designing and redesigning spaces in my home:
  • A place for everything and everything in its place. Clutter and messes happen, but they should be easy to clean up and tidy. Once a space feels too packed, it's time to reevaluate either how many items should be kept, or if they should be moved somewhere else. 
  • Color is the foundation of a room. Different colors elicit unique responses subconsciously. Although white is a very clean color, it can seem too sterile sometimes. I use an emerald green in my library, which looks very clean in an "out in nature" way; my bedroom is a deep ocean blue which makes for a relaxing place to sleep. Colors like yellow, red, and orange can excite the appetite, so my dining room is a soothing mix of turquoise and grey with colorful furniture. It's funky and modern and doesn't encourage overeating but it's still a great place to gather with friends.
  • Remember that almost anything can be changed. Furniture can be rearranged. Walls, trim, and cabinetry can always be repainted. We don't always get something right the first time, and with design, we don't have to commit to something forever.
  • Be introspective. A well-designed home should make you happy. It should energize you on cool, rainy days and relax you when you come home stressed. Good design should reflect who you are and the life you want to have. Ask yourself if each aspect of a design from paint color to flooring to the kinds of appliances fit in with your goals and your wants/needs.
The biggest deal on the list is introspection. I suggest taking time to critically think over every aspect of design and ask: "Do I like this right now?" and "Will the person I want to be still like this?" When you're confident in a color palette or design, then it's time to get to work. If you end up dissatisfied with how something looks, don't fret. Everything can be changed up or fixed with just a little effort. Experiment enough and you'll ultimately find your own perfect version of minimalist design.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Mindful Consumerism and Minimalism

There has been a surge in "mindful" or "mindfulness" practices lately. I don't benefit from mindfulness meditation, but I have been happier since I started to practice mindful consumerism. For me, mindful consumerism is an introspective process that involves critically analyzing my need for consumer goods. Mindful consumerism, to me, seems like the perfect partner to modern minimalism.

My mindful consumerism has been a work in progress for about the past year. I started by analyzing the products I use on a daily basis, and have worked to change my habits for the better. Mindful consumerism has not only cut down on clutter, but has helped me stick to a good financial budget as well. Below are a few of my recent helpful habits as a "mindful consumer":
  • Purchasing bath goods in liters - In addition to saving my wallet the higher cost per unit of smaller bottles, I am also creating fewer pieces of plastic waste. Additionally, I switch out regular flip caps to pumps to better control the amount of product I use. These switches help make two 1L bottles of shampoo and one 1L bottle of conditioner last just over a year for me and my husband.
  • Buying timeless wardrobe pieces - My style has remained pretty consistent for the past few years, which makes it very easy to buy fewer garments. My daily outfit consists of either a dress or a tunic, leggings, and boots. I have short sleeve and sleeveless dresses for summer, but they can be worn all year with the addition of a cardigan. My closet isn't stuffed full of a ton of different single-purpose outfits. Everything can be mixed and matched and accessorized to fit any occasion.
  • Making do and mending - Despite items in my wardrobe being similar over time and easy to replace, sometimes I get attached to one piece or another and wear it to the point where it starts to get a little worse for wear. Instead of tossing out a cardigan because it gets a hole in the elbow, I'll "make do and mend" and break out some sewing supplies to stitch it back together. In addition to saving me the cost of a new garment, mending a ripped or holey one keeps it out of the landfill for longer.
  • Simplifying my skincare routine - Some skincare regimens today have over 40 steps and several dozen products involved. Mine has one step, sometimes two in the morning, and sometimes a third step at night. By keeping it simple with a cleanser that doesn't dry out my skin and a moisturizer that pulls double duty as sunscreen, I save myself time and money that more complicated regimens would demand. At the end of the day if I need it, I'll use micellar water to remove makeup or just refresh my face. Up to three products, and just a few minutes a day--that's all it really takes to keep a face clean and healthy. (Plus I couldn't imagine the clutter of a 40+ step regimen.)
  • Unsubscribing from retailers' marketing emails - Part of being a mindful consumer for me is not waiting for promo codes or the next hottest product to hit my inbox. I don't buy into marketing hype, and I can always search for promotional codes or discounts when I do need to buy an item. Hitting unsubscribe means fewer temptations, and fewer products I might buy only to use once then throw away if they don't work for me.
  • Waiting at least a week before a "want" purchase - If I see an item that I want but might not need, I'll wait at least a week before I make a decision to purchase it or go without. It was hard at first to suppress the urge to buy things as soon as I saw them, but it's saved me a lot of clutter and money by waiting. I've found more often than not that I like the idea of the impulse item more than I'd appreciate the reality of having it.
Becoming a mindful consumer can be a difficult process, but with the right execution it can have a multitude of benefits. Personally, keeping down clutter, not producing a lot of waste, and saving myself time and money are the benefits that excite me the most.