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.