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The Simple Life?

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Sometimes trying to live a simpler life, can be kind of like walking a tight rope. The idea of living with just the basics holds a strong appeal for me, but in sometimes it feels like minimalism does not automatically translate into wanting and needing less. Sometimes, it feels like the things I want and need, just shift.

I know there is something fundamentally off about this, but there it is anyway. For instance, it feels great getting rid of clothing that no longer fits or looks good, but this also makes me think about the things that would add more functionality or versatility to my wardrobe. For example, I don’t own a white button down blouse. I feel like there have been lots of time where I have wanted to look professional, and though I’ve been able to put something together that worked, a button down shirt for me is kind of a necessity.

But, since I am trying to be intentional about my clothing choices, it makes such a purchase somewhat more complicated. I don’t dry clean (trust me, nothing I own would ever make it to the dry-cleaners, so there’s little point in my pretending otherwise), so I would want the shirt to be stain-resistant and wrinkle-free. Then, of course, I only want clothing I actually like, so it should look tailored, even if it isn’t. And of course, I have to actually be able to afford it.Things like this make it hard to just walk into any store, like I would have in the past, and pick the first thing that sort of fits and is on clearance.

Research is involved. Options are weighed. And after awhile it seems like having less stuff is taking up more energy than not being a minimalist!

I have been going slowly, which I know is part of it. On a limited budget I can’t just get rid of everything that doesn’t work and replace it all with a new high-quality, high-style, high-functionality mix and match wardrobe.

Just like I can’t just decide to replace our apartment with a modular home and rooftop vegetable garden,  or immediately decide that my primary source of income is now a work-from-home micro business which allows me to travel.

It’s good to have goals, but it’s also good to be able to simplify my life at a pace that is less than frenzied.

Sometimes I feel like I have no business considering myself a minimalist until my life has been transformed to look like something off the over of Zen magazine. But like all other self-improvement related pursuits, it is not a race–it is a journey.

The point of simplicity is to have more peace and happiness, and I need to remember that.

Gratitude: We Belong to Each Other

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One of my favourite things about Facebook, is the chance to watch families change and expand, before my very eyes. I sometimes see bad news, about loss or divorce or illness, but I am always so happy to watch the relationships that are there.

People that I have not seen since before I was even married have commented on photos of me and my children, and it strikes me how much life can happen and how much awesomeness can take place, while we are not even paying attention.

My college roommate recently posted family photos online, and the change from when I knew her, is astounding. When we were in college, it was my roommate, her mother, her dad, and two siblings. Now? It’s her brother and his wife, her sister and husband and their child, and my roommate, spouse and beautiful baby.

As aggravating as social media can sometimes be, it can give us a peek into other peoples’ worlds, and help us realize how much we, ourselves, have. I, for one, have so much more family than I did ten years ago. I’m truly grateful for that.

These are people who have been with me when things were bad. These are people who have helped lift the burden of financial stress or family stressors. These are people who have completed our little nuclear unit by being born, and people who are not related by blood or marriage, but who have, by some miracle, chosen to love us–and we have chosen to love them back.

It’s a rich life, when we can go through it with more people than we started with. When a friend can lose a husband she was madly in love with, and years later build a wonderful new family despite that horrific event, the amazing resilience of the human spirit is obvious to me. When people of all backgrounds and cultures can come together and declare “We belong to each other,”I can almost believe in miracles.

Post-Holiday Clutter

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It’s January, and as usual, we’re knee-deep in post-holiday “stuff.” We are so lucky to have such generous friends and family, but for people trying to live a simple life with less things, it can be daunting to figure out how to manage a house full of new items.

The “one in, one out” rule works really well for this kind of thing. If I only need four sweaters, and I get more for Christmas, I can get rid of ones that are worn-out or stained or missing a button that I (shamefully) lack the skills to re-attach. If you can sew, you can put the button back on yourself, and donate the item to Goodwill. Win for everyone!

If you’re like me, and you’ve pretty much discarded anything you don’t love/doesn’t fit/isn’t useful, you can do what my family does. In order to keep us from swimming in laundry, I simply put the new clothes away. My daughter stains her clothing regularly, and my son wears holes in his jeans like it’s his job, so there is no question that we will definitely need the new clothes in the near future. I just won’t introduce them into the rotation just yet. Instead, I put them in boxes in the top of the closet, or seal them storage bags kept under the bed. That way, we aren’t overwhelmed with clothing choices and laundry, and we save money by not having to replace their clothes as often. When my son invariably tears his pants, I simply replace them with a new pair from Grandma!

Our family members generally have a good sense of our taste, but anything you don’t love, you can offer to a friend whose style it fits better, or donate. It may seem like a waste to donate something that is brand new, but trust me, the people who receive it will really appreciate and benefit from it. Another option: Selling online! It might seem crass or ungrateful, but your friends and family gave you those items to help you. If you need the money and will get more use out of exchanging it or selling it, then go ahead, and don’t feel bad. It’s better than the gift sitting in your closet or cupboard, gathering dust and taking up space.

In terms of toys, we do a post-Christmas clean-out. Things that haven’t been played with in a long time get donated to the school, or given to friends. Games that are missing pieces or worn out, are thrown away.

Another idea I love, and plan to put to use next year, is a Santa Sack. Only, instead of putting the gifts for the kids in the bag, we will have them each choose a few toys to give away for Santa to take back to his workshop and fix up to give to other kids next Christmas. I love how this idea teaches kids to be content with enough, as well as to share with others. And it lessens the sting of saying good-bye to their toys, when they know that soon they will be replaced with new things!

Image Credit: Design Dazzle

How do you deal with post-holiday clutter? Tell us in the comments!

Minimalist Wallet

Years ago, my husband gave me a lovely, high quality wallet. I still have it. It is pretty big and bulky though!  I used to carry around messenger bags all the time, so it worked, but now that I have downsized to a much smaller purse, it doesn’t even fit. I thought about getting a smaller wallet, or change purse. I thought about getting a bigger bag. But a bigger bag would make it more likely that I would be saddled with lots of “stuff” every time I go out–the more room there is, the more tempted I would be to fill it, because try as I might, I tend to be a bit of a clutter magnet.

So my solution is this:

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Yep,  that’s right. My new wallet is an Altoids tin. It was free (with the yummy mints), and its the perfect size for my cards, cash, and change. It takes up barely any space in my little minimalist bag, and it’s cute to boot!

How do you cut down on purse clutter?

8 Things I’m not Stressing About 8 Days Before Christmas

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Over the past couple of weeks, any time someone has mentioned that it’s x number of days until Christmas, I start to freak out. My chest constricts, my breathing gets shallow, and I immediately take out my notebook and start furiously scribbling down to-do list items.

Christmas is now just days away, and I want to enjoy the anticipation instead of feeling like I am on a treadmill to nowhere. Here are some things I’ve decided to stop stressing about right now.

1) Christmas Cards. I have yet to do Christmas portraits of my children. I am still planning on doing them–this week, in fact–but I won’t have time to design a card around them and send them out in time for Christmas. Nor do I have time for all the addressing and stamping and mailing that goes along with this particular obligation tradition. I am getting cards from Wal-Mart, signing them, and sending a bulk package to my parents and my husband’s parents to hand out to the addressees when they see our extended families on Christmas Day (we won’t be there). That is what’s happening, because I just can’t.

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2) Baking. Today I crossed half the items of the list of things I was planning to bake this year. Chocolate crinkles, peanut butter blossoms, m&m cookie bars, chocolate covered pretzels, gingerbread cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, German butter cookies, gingerbread muffins and Peppermint Pattie brownies? Ain’t nobody got time for that! If I didn’t already have each and every ingredient in my cupboard, it was stricken from the list.

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3) Clothing. No outfits will be coordinated. No new clothes will be purchased. The perfect pair of Christmas PJ’s does not exist within my price range this year, which is fine, because the important thing is that the children have pajamas at all, right? Right?

4) Decorating. Less is more, no? As much as I love Christmas decor, and would love to have stockings hung by the chimney with care, lights in all the windows, and red plaid bedding in the bedrooms, it is just not going to happen–probably ever! A Christmas tree is enough. I’m good.

5) Stockings. Our stockings will be simple, cheap, and practical. No aimlessly wandering toy stores, big box stores and dollar stores in a desperate search for trinkets this year!

6) Entertaining. I am keeping it low-key–super low-key. My sister is coming for a holiday brunch that will consist of sausages, pancakes, scrambled eggs and muffins. On Christmas Eve we are having friends over for appetizers. Fancy table settings will be forgone in exchange for  butcher paper with the names of each food item in sharpie. We will eat buffet style. Because if you can’t relax around friends and family, there’s a problem. 

7) Shopping. I am done shopping. D-O-N-E, done. This is less a statement of accomplishment, and more of a vow that I am not going into another mall until January–period. On my last shopping trip we parked the car on the sidewalk. ‘Nuff said.

8) Tradition. Ever the sentimentalist, it’s really, really easy for me to get caught up in tradition. I love the idea of having special things we do each year. But feeling like I have to do any of these things, regardless of time or circumstance can really suck the joy out of the entire season. I’m giving myself permission to introduce new elements some years, and forgo others. Instead of forcing myself to hunt for the perfect Christmas ornament for each child representing something from their year, I am going to be much more spontaneous about it. If I happen upon such an ornament, great! If not, no biggie. Nor will I get my knickers in a twist if the kids refuse to sit through Charlie Brown Christmas. 

I am done being stressed about the holidays. It’s time to get my Merry on!

Minimalist Christmas Tree Inspiration

Short on space, money, or just want to keep things simple? Check out these minimalist Christmas ideas!

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A lit garland takes up next to no space, and the presets can go flush against it. You still get the effect of greenery and lights, with minimal cost and work.

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A chalkboard Christmas tree is perfect, because you can use the chalkboard for other things throughout the year. Multi-functionality is always a bonus!

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This rustic and unique tree option would fit perfectly into a corner somewhere.

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Table top Christmas trees are adorable, space saving, and save you tons on both the tree itself and the price of ornaments. Keep reading to see my family’s tabletop tree!

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This wall hanging saves space and time, and can be left up as decor all winter long.

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Our tree is four feet tall and stands on an end table in the corner of our living room. This is the perfect set-up for us, since the table is already there and prevents the tree from taking up any additional space. The fact that the tree is off the ground gives it the illusion of height, while still not requiring very many ornaments at all to look full.

We love it!

Not Your Mother’s Holiday Playlist 2.0

Hi everyone! Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m back with another list of non-traditional Christmas hits to rock out to this holiday season. Enjoy, and feel free to add your own in the comments!

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Was Your Make-up Mined by Child Slaves?

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I like make-up. I’ve been wearing it, in some fashion or another, since I was a teen. I am not the type that can’t leave home without it, but residual pregnancy acne combined with dark eye circles from not sleeping for four years straight, has made it something of a staple in my daily routine.

Imagine my dismay when I found out that almost all make-up products contain Mica, a mineral that is mined by children–tiny children. At first I tried to ignore it, as you do–I mean, who wants to deal with that? Everything is off limits these days.

Don’t wear sweat shop clothes. Don’t eat commercial chocolate. Don’t use disposable coffee cups. Don’t drink bottled water. Don’t eat meat. Buy exclusively from local vendors. Only drive a hybrid. It’s a little overwhelming, to say the least.

Yet, as I have applied my make-up in the morning, the echoing voice of a girlfriend alerting me to the tiny children who were suffering for my ability to hide my under-eye circles kept reverberating in my head. Tiny children. Tiny children. 

I have tiny children. What kind of mother am I if I feel its okay to support a practice that would exploit them, had they simply not had the good fortune to have been born in North America?

Sigh.

So I went online. Checked out Pinterest. Looked at a few make-up forums. And the wonderful thing about the internet, is that you can get information on almost anything–including make-up that does not contain Mica. Now, we may not have the extremely broad selection of colours available to us that we would have otherwise, but it does exist, child exploitation-free.

Allow me to alert you to Epic Mineral Beauty–make-up that is, as they so delicately put it, “crud free.” 😉

They sell mascara, foundation, bronzer, blush and eyeshadow, and most have sample sizes available, so you can try it out at a minimal financial investment before making a full order.

Cory Cosmetics sells a variety of ethical foundations, from sticks, to herbal liquid, and of course, powders. Some of their make-up does contain Mica, so be sure to look under the category of Mica-free.

Crush Groove also has quite the selection, but what caught my eye from this Mica-free company, was the multi-purpose pigment powders. These can be used as eye shadow, blush, and for shading, and are highly-concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

I have yet to try any of these, I as literally just started looking into this issue this morning. I am due for a make-up restock soon and will definitely be making the switch to ethical make-up. . .because, tiny children.

Loving Your Kids is Not Enough

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Loving my kids is not enough. At least, that’s what they tell me. No one says it out loud, but I hear it anyway. We all do. It permeates the very air of the parenting world, making the message impossible to miss. It was so pervasive, so subtle, so deeply ingrained, that had this article published by Quartz not pointed it out, I would have gone on believing that it was true.

“A good parent is said to “provide” for children. It is no longer enough to simply love them. Love is the sidebar to achievement, an insufficient defense against an unyielding future.”-QZ.com

Of course, I’m sure we all agree that children can’t live on love alone. There are basic physical needs that must be met. But even supplying our children with those things–food, clothing, shelter, exercise–is considered inadequate.

The article explains what it means to “provide”, in today’s North American super-parenting culture. Providing is private pre-school, formal lessons in art or sport (and preferably both), and summer trips abroad. It is putting away money to send them to college or university, even though the benefits of that in our current employment climate remain dubious.

It isn’t enough for our kids to be happy and healthy and safe–they have to be successful. And success, of course, is measured in how much money they are able to make in adulthood–so they can continue the entire, hideous cycle.

Make it stop.

 If your children have food, clothing, a place to live, and parents who listen to/hug/kiss/love them, they’re good.

As for the extras, we do not need to buy into the capitalist version of parenting.

If you want to provide your children with educational enrichment, read to them. Read to them, with them, and have them read to you.

Get a library card if they’re free where you live, or make sure of the library at their school. Literacy goes a long way.

Play with them.  You don’t need to join a soccer league to play soccer, and you don’t need to go to arts camp in order to be artistic. Take your kids outside and kick a ball around. See if any of the neighbours want to join, and form your own rec team. Look into community recreation grants–Jump Start for kids is one.

Buy paper and paints and research color theory and famous works of art. Check out free-admission days at your local galleries. Give your kid and old cell phone with video and send them out to make a documentary, or give them an old camera and roll of film and send them on a photo scavenger hunt.

Above all, let them know that their worth comes from inside. Achievement is not everything. What matters is that they are thoughtful and loving and kind, that they are hard-working and try their best, that they know how to cooperate and compromise. Just like their loving, hard-working parents.

Because loving your kids is enough. And its about time we realized it.

Hi There

Hey y’all. So, I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything. It was sometime around last Christmas, so I guess a return during the holidays this year is fitting, no?

I left because things got busy, and complicated. And I’m back because, well, I keep thinking of things I want to write about and then I’m like “too bad I abandoned my blog.” So I decided to UN-abandon it. Because I still run this.

Stay tuned for lots and lots of new rants.

And happy almost-holidays!