Discovering Your Style in Four Simple Steps

Though we may not be consciously aware of it, our society informs our clothing choices. What we select may not suit our tastes, our lifestyles, or our bodies, but what we see on our celebrities, our friends, or in our stores too often becomes our next regrettable purchase. How can we develop more discerning decision-making power? How can we tune into what will make us feel great and what will pull weight in our wardrobe? That is what I aim to show you in 4 simple steps.

Step 1: Reconnaissance: Discover Your Preferences

Believe it or not, most everything you need to know you already do. It’s in your closet waiting for you to become more in tune with it. Those tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories you most often grab are your style. They are the colors, the size, the shapes that you feel most comfortable in.

The problem is, their message is often lost in the jumble of clothes that you don’t care for or you wear out of necessity (maybe laundry day is a bit too far off). You might not know that you’re a navy and cream kinda gal (or guy) because of all that lime green you see in your closet confusing you.

So, the first step is too clear out the closet. Take EVERYTHING out and only replace those things you feel great in. You don’t have to get rid of the other stuff yet, just box it up and put it someplace else.

Once you have those items you love, pay attention to what you love about them. The secret is to become aware enough of your preferences that you can recognize what you’ll love even when you’re not in your closet.

Don’t bother over-thinking it either. You don’t have to know that you’re a soft summer toned triangle body type (or whatever). What you like to wear will generally look good on you. That’s why you like to wear it. Plus, if you feel good, you’ll look good too.

Here are a few questions to help you understand your preferences:

  • What are your signature colors? And what do you avoid?
  • What are your signature patterns? And what do you avoid?
  • Do you prefer natural fibers to synthetic or vice versa?
  • Do you prefer things to be loose or fitted? Structured or flowy? Sporty? Romantic?
  • What is your favorite sleeve length?
  • What is your favorite pant shape? Boot cut? Skinny? Boyfriend?

Step 2: Find Your Uniform.

Your discoveries in step one are crucial here. When developing your uniform, you pin point your signature look(s). For example, your go-to might be a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers.

From step one, you’ve learned that you feel good wearing black. You also like dark wash blue jeans, maybe a straight-legged style. You know that you favor clean lines and don’t appreciate a more whimsical cut. You’ve realized that you like to keep it simple and sporty and don’t tend to wear any of your bohemian or romantic clothes and anything with a pattern makes you slightly nauseous.

Obviously, this is just an example. Many innovative thinkers have worked out personal uniforms so that they can go on thinking about other things. Steve Jobs, Former President Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein are just a few and they all have a different look.

You may have more than one signature look and they may very from season to season, but pick out your workhorses.

Here are a few questions that may help:

  • What do you spend your days doing? (Are you in an office? Outdoors? Chasing kids?)
  • What are three words you would use to describe the look you’re going for?
  • What is the message you want to convey to others?
  • What is your go-to look?

Step 3: Do The Math.

Now that you know your style and color preferences and what you want your uniform to be, you need to do some calculations. Don’t worry, this isn’t rocket science, but it will be unique to you.

For one, you need to determine the distance between laundry days. I get all my laundry done within 4 days, so I like to work with numbers between 4 and 6. Some items, such as socks and underwear, seem to require a few extra.

The next thing you need to judge is the number of combinations you can make with what you have. If you keep your clothes to a certain color pallet or style, you’ll be able to make a lot more outfits.

My preference is to have my base layers be plain and to add patterns through accessories like scarves or bohemian skirts. The reason patterned bottoms work for me is that I don’t wear more than one bottom at a time so competing/clashing patterns aren’t really a problem. Having basically plain tops allows me to mix and match base layer, vest, button down, jacket, coat, or whatever without having to overthink anything.

For my boys, I tend to keep their bottoms plain because most boy’s shirts are where the fun characters and patterns tend to be.

Discovering your magic number is a bit of a work in progress, but I recommend working from a minimalist bias. See how few things you can get a way with and you’ll refine your style much more quickly.

Step 4: Shop Smarter

When I was unaware of my personal style, the sky was the limit. I could always be shopping for the next new thing I didn’t really like. Something might catch my eye and when I brought it home, I would soon discover that it didn’t feel like “me” and the new thing didn’t match anything I liked to wear.

Though I tended to shop second-hand, it still amounted to a lot of wasted money and space. And wasn’t any good for the environment.

I am now (mostly) immune. I can go to a shop and quickly determine if an item suits my wardrobe and I know very specifically what I’m looking for. This saves me a ton of time and gives me a lot of clarity.

While I hope to see others answer questions of style in wildly different ways, I also hope for more people to share in the peace of mind I now enjoy.

Until next time, be the light by living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Meal Prepping

If I were to list the great insights of my life, I seriously think this practice would make the top twenty.

Doing this one thing simplifies my life, makes it easier to eat healthy foods, and it saves me a lot of time and money.

Meal prepping (also sometimes called batch cooking) is the act of making a bunch of meals at one time so they are ready for you when you need them. You can take them to work with you and heat them in a microwave or have them at home when you’d otherwise grab snack food. It’s kind of like freezer dinners for frugal environmentalists. Here, I will help you get started.

Gearing Up

MealPrep3-768x432

You could get started with what you have at home. A pot and some Tupperware is really enough.

I recommend getting some glass Pyrex style Tupperware with lids. I prefer the 4 cup sized ones, but I make do with the other sizes that came from sets I’ve bought. You probably won’t need more than five. These might seem costlier when compared to plastic, but they are worth it. They’ll last longer, be safer for you than plastic, and can travel from freezer, refrigerator, lunchbox, microwave, oven, and table without doing much more than taking on and off the lid.

(Caution: the glass will get hot coming out of a microwave or oven, I’d include an oven mitt with your lunch box, but then you can forgo the extra serving dishes.)

I also love my combination rice cooker and steamer which allows me to batch cook very easily. The kind I have is stainless steel so that I can avoid the dangers of scratched Teflon.

How I Meal Prep

I currently only prep my lunches. I usually have the same lunch for about 4-5 days and then switch to another recipe. This simplifies grocery shopping and thought time.

If I prep more than 3 days worth of lunches, I like to freeze the remainder so that the contents remain safe. Then, I’ll pull from the freezer batches that I intend to eat, letting them thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Your mileage may vary depending on the food you like to eat and how it freezes, refrigerates, reheats and so on. I recommend looking up meal prepping and batch cooking on YouTube where you can gain inspiration and find recipes appealing to you.

My Favorite Meal Prep Recipe

Cheap & Easy “Buddha” Bowl

MealPrep1-768x432

I have a combination rice cooker and steamer so I’ll put brown rice and water in the bottom portion and Asian style frozen veggies in the steamer. While that is cooking, I’ll cut my tofu into slices and bake them in the oven for 10 minutes at 350F. I flip once and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

After everything has cooked, I’ll dispense them into the Pyrex containers and a bowl (I’ll eat one batch for lunch on the spot).

I like to purchase Terriyaki or Korean Barbecue sauce, but you can make your own sauces too. I like to vary the sauces through the week as it keeps the meals more interesting. I’ll add the sauce to the containers while I allow them to cool. Once they cool, I put the covers on and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Ending Thoughts

Meal prepping is a practice that can save you a lot of time, energy, and money. It can be a tool for you to eat healthier and to lose weight. I find it simplifies my life and, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you give it a try!

Posted in Frugal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

5 Rs to Zero Waste

You’ve probably heard of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. While the chasing arrow symbol is meant to underscore the equality between these, recycling is the process that everyone seems to remember. Here, we’ll explore why recycling should be pushed down a few pegs if we want to be more environmentally responsible with our waste.

Béa Johnson, author of the Zero Waste Home, and one of the major thinkers behind the Zero Waste movement, places recycling near the bottom of her waste stream hierarchy. Throwing less away in landfills isn’t about recycling more, but about employing a better articulated method of “precycling”, which she expresses in her 5 Rs.

What is “Precycling”?

Remember those “reduce” and “reuse” methods that are often ignored? They return here. Precycling is about bringing home products only after considering what their (and their packaging) end life will be like.

Consider whether an item will go to …

  • Recycling center? How many times?

  • Landfill?

  • Litter?

  • Compost?

  • Polluting our environment?

  • Poisoning other countries?

And also:

  • How long will it last? Is it single-use? Will it be used a month from now?

Precycling means thinking about the ultimate destination and making the best choice available to us.

For example, you may be aware that plastic is toxic to produce and very hard to recycle. So if you’re at the grocery store and are buying pasta sauce, a good precycling choice would be to buy the glass container with the metal lid instead of the pasta sauce in plastic.

The concept of “precycling” may seem daunting, but the 5Rs provide a systematic approach to make considerations easier.

Bea’s 5 Rs

Her list goes something like this:

  1. Refuse what you do not need.

  2. Reduce what you do need.

  3. Reuse what you have (and buy used).

  4. Recycle what you can.

  5. Rot the rest.

If you make your decisions in this order, you’ll have very little left to find a good resting place for.

But what do these statements mean?

Refusing what you do not need could mean anything from asking for no straw at a restaurant to deciding that the community pool is a better option than maintaining your own. It is considering what actually brings value to your life and what is the unnecessary surplus that will likely just lead to trash.

What is necessary for you will be different from my necessities so there is no hard list to follow. It is more about checking in with yourself to separate the necessary from the superfluous.

There are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for refusal success. For example, if you bring a canvas tote from home, you can refuse the plastic bag at check out.

Refusal Kit

Being prepared (and creative) can improve your chances of creating less waste. Pictured here is my current “refusal kit”. 

Reducing what you do need means stretching what you have so that you’re not buying so frequently. It might mean using less shampoo or developing a capsule wardrobe or using scrap paper when a new sheet isn’t important. Here to, the mindset is what is important. There is no magic list for everything you can reduce.

Reuse what you have (also buy used) probably doesn’t need much explaining. If something you already own can fill a purpose, try that first. The last glass from a set your kids have broken can make a great toothbrush holder. My husband uses my hair dryer way more often than I do – and not for his hair!

We buy as much as we can second-hand and are happy to accept hand-me-downs. It is amazing the kind of money you can save here.

Recycle what you can also doesn’t need much elaboration. However, I will say that what you can recycle will vary from community to community. It is important to know what is actually getting sent to recycling facilities and what is being tossed. Outside of curbside recycling, there are other options. Many grocery stores accept plastic grocery sacks, for example.

Also, as I mentioned above, some materials recycle better than others so choose glass and metal over plastic as much as you can.

Rot the rest refers to composting. It’s easier than you might think and you can compost more than table scraps. I compost our hair and fingernails (from the bathroom) and the contents of the vacuum cleaner’s canister too.

My Take on The 5 Rs

I am in love with this hierarchy of decision making and have little to add. However, I have 2 Rs that are appropriate for my circumstances.

The first is: “Repair what you can”, which just means repairing what your ability and resources will allow. I resew buttons, for example, but I no longer spend the time patching toddler pants. It just isn’t worth it for me. I would place Repair after Reuse on Béa’s list.

The second is: “Roast” which just means “burn what is appropriate”. We rarely have a burn ban in our moist climate. While there are people who irresponsibly burn toxic garbage, I am talking about things like paper, untreated lumber, broken wooden kitchen spoons and bamboo toothbrushes. The sort of thing that is compostable but may take a very long time to break down in a home composting system.

I would place this R before Rot, though I’m likely to take paper out of the recycling bin to get our fire pit going.

Your Thoughts

How about you? Have you heard of precycling before? Does the strategy of the 5 Rs seem to be effective against creating waste? What do you think of my additions?

Posted in Zero Waste | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Minimalism: A Year Later (Part 2 of 4)

Over the course of 2017, I focused my sustainability efforts on minimalism. When I started out, I had no idea how great an impact it would make on my possessions, on my physical, mental and emotional health and on my life’s goals. I also realized that the first year was just the start of my journey.

Possessions: Minimalism and Personal Care Routines

I began my minimalist journey with my closet and so it just seemed logical to continue revamping my personal care and appearance. I began to tackle my beauty routines and possessions.

Some things I tried didn’t stick (like buzzing my hair), but overall my routines became more streamlined and better reflect my values.

buzz-150x150

Buzzed Hair.

(One minimalist experiment I tried was buzzing my hair. While I love the look of a buzz cut on many women, I didn’t find it suited the shape of my face.)

I’ve gone for a simplified look: no elaborate hair styling, make-up, or perfume simply because I currently find no value in it (if I one day do, then so be it). Minimalists can certainly be beauticians as well, but this doesn’t interest me personally.

My selection favors routines that don’t take up too much time or space, but also that have as few ingredients as possible. I don’t use products that have been tested on animals or have animal-derived ingredients.

Oral Hygiene:

  • tongue scraper (mornings)

  • dental floss (evenings)

  • toothbrush (2x/day)

  • tooth powder or toothpaste (2x/day)

  • mouth rinse (2x/day)

Face Care: (1x/day)

  • witch hazel (in roller bottle)

  • oil blend (in roller bottle)

  • chap stick

In The Shower: (3-4x/week)

  • shampoo

  • conditioner

  • liquid Soap

Body Skin Care: (Variable)

  • dry skin brush (1x/day)

  • lip and scar balm (for stretch marks, 1x/day)

  • Nova Scotia Fisherman: Xtreme Skin Care (for my super dry hands, as needed)

  • salt deodorant

Misc. Body: (1x/week)

  • safety razor and coconut oil (shaving)

  • fingernail clipper

  • toenail clipper

  • tweezers

  • small scissors

Hair: (daily)

  • wooden comb

  • a small baggy of assorted hair ties, bobby pins, and clips

  • fancy leaf/feather hair clip (1)

  • fancy hair piece (with stick)

Women’s Health:

  • cloth pads (x9)

  • Diva cup

  • basal body thermometer (not shown in picture)

hygiene spread

Health: Minimalism and Fitness

During my pregnancy, I did try to stay fit with varying degrees of success over 9 long months. It was actually at the end of the pregnancy and when dealing with a newborn that my fitness suffered the most. As anyone involved in fitness can attest, with a break in practice, your fitness gains can easily be lost. Still carrying the baby weight, I feel as though I’m starting from scratch. My core is especially weak.

I have three kids, have very little personal time, and very little daylight at this time of the year. With these factors in mind, I’ve fashioned a simple routine that has already shown itself to be beneficial.

Early in the morning, before the kids wake up and my husband leaves, I spend about 30 minutes doing the following:

  • 4 Sun Salutations

  • App assisted, body weight training:

    • Leg Challenge Apps on my cell phone (Right now, I’m working on a squat challenge.)

    • Core Challenge Apps on my cell phone (Right now, I’m doing an app that has 5 different body weight exercises.)

    • Arm Challenge Apps (Right now, I’m using an app that has multiple exercises and a set of light weights I already had at home.)

  • 7 Minute Full Body Workout App

  • Stretching

I also try to incorporate more movement into my day by: writing while sitting on an exercise ball, moving the baby changing station up the stairs, parking further from my destination and walking, housecleaning as exercise.

I’m one of those crazy people who enjoys exercise, but it can be difficult to slip it into a busy day. By simplifying my routine and lowering my expectations somewhat (I tell myself that in warmer months I’ll get to doing more) as well as being consistent, I feel as thought my fitness is not being neglected.

Goal: Health

Health is a very important, lifelong value for me. After all, as it is often noted, if you don’t have your health, you haven’t got anything.

I didn’t expect minimalism to improve my physical health. Sure, I kind of figured it could have a positive impact on my mental and emotional health as I removed clutter and excessive obligations from my life and home, but how could paring down help build my health?

As noted above, by simplifying my exercise routine, I am able to do it more consistently which is crucial to keeping those fitness gains I do make.

I apply a lot fewer chemicals to my body while preparing for the day, keeping the ingredients simple and less toxic.

I also clean my home with little more than vinegar, water, baking soda, and castile soap.

With less stress, I feel freer to add routines to increase the quality of my sleep such as winding down at night with self-massage, daily gratitude journal, a cup of chamomile tea, and meditation.

Beyond striving for simplicity and “do-ability”, minimalism has filled my life with more intention. I think about what I do and whether or not it serves me and my goals. For instance, I choose not to get drunk because I am acutely aware of the financial cost, potential weight gain, and the cost to next day’s productivity and emotional state.

Still to Come: Minimalism and Diet

I don’t eat less. That might be a bit contrary to what one might expect from minimalism and diet being linked.

So far, minimalism has begun to affect my dietary habits, but I haven’t hit that magic groove that tells me that my decluttering has reached a satisfactory level for me right now. It is a feeling I get when the level of decluttering reveals the possessions and routines that are in alignment my values and sense of self.

I also have to make more compromises here as my husband and I have very different cooking styles and goals. This is shared territory.

Some adjustments I’ve made so far include:

  • organized and decluttered (a bit) in the kitchen

  • purchasing packaged foods with fewer ingredients

  • cooking simpler meals that are less time, ingredient and utensil intensive

  • meal prep my lunches, cooking a big batch that lasts for about five days (this has decreased the amount of processed foods I eat)

  • employing a meal plan and making a shopping list from it

  • not worrying over the “perfect” diet, just making incremental changes

Minimalism has positively impacted my health in non-minimal ways. It should be fun to see how these changes magnify themselves, when done consistently, over the course of another year.

Until next time, be the light by living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Minimalism: A Year Later (Part 1 of 4)

Over the course of 2017, I focused my sustainability efforts on minimalism. When I started out, I had no idea how great an impact it would make on my possessions, on my mental and emotional health, and on my life’s goals.

While I’ve changed a lot this year, I also learned that there are so many more areas still to go. I now believe my minimalist journey to be one of lifelong discovery.

Possessions: Minimalism and Dress

I’m currently wearing some of my favorite clothes. I feel comfortable, beautiful, and very “me” in them. It didn’t take me long today to choose something I really liked because my closet only contains clothes and accessories that I treasure. This is a far cry from where I began. I had mountains of clothes and nothing to wear. Many were ill-fitting or ill-suited to my body, my style, and the messages I wanted to convey to others about who I am.

I always felt as though I needed something else and was never satisfied with the amount of clothes I had. Now, I have far (far!) fewer items, but everything has been chosen to fit together and to fill a role. I feel content. This means I will be consuming fewer clothes and that the one’s I do buy in the future will be thoughtfully chosen.

This may seem really superficial, but I’ve found a lot of gains beyond looking good (or, better). I’ve learned how flexible satisfaction can be and I learned to listen to myself for cues about personal style. I was never a follower of trends, but I still feel freer for giving myself permission to let them go. I also save time in selecting clothes – just about everything can be paired with anything else!

If you’re looking to get started with a more curated wardrobe, I highly recommend looking up “Project 333” which was my starting point. I love capsule wardrobes so much I do them for my three children and plan to teach them how to make their own when they are older.

My winter capsule includes the following:

  • 3 pairs of shoes (1 pair riding boots, 1 pair nice heeled boots, 1 pair of hiking boots)

    * The hiking boots are made from leather, bought before I went Vegan, and I intend to wear them until they wear out.

  • 1 purse

  • 2 coats (1 warm winter coat, 1 faux-leather jacket)

  • 2 scarves (1 warm winter scarf, 1 fashion scarf – patterned)

  • 1 pair of gloves

  • 1 winter hat

  • 1 pair of sunglasses

  • 1 faux-leather belt (reversible – black and brown)

  • 3 pairs of pants (1 skinny jean, 1 boyfriend jean, 1 brown corduroy)

  • 1 nice jean skirt

  • 2 long-sleeved t-shirts (green and burnt orange)

  • 2 button down shirts (blue corduroy, green)

  • 2 blouses (green paisley, green faux-suede)

  • 1 puffer vest

  • 1 fleece jacket

  • 1 grey sweater
  • 1 corduroy blazer

    = 25 items (does not include Pjs, workout gear, jewelry, or under-garments)

There are three signs of a successful capsule wardrobe:

(1) The collection is paired down

(2) The collection can be combined in many ways to produce a wide variety of outfits.

(3) The collection reflects the wearer. Someone who knows you well could pick out the collection amidst many others and know it was yours.

Mental & Emotional Health: Minimalism and Time Management

Since becoming a minimalist, I’ve changed my relationship to time. Minimalism has helped me to understand that each of us only has 24 hours in a day. I realized that some of my beliefs and behaviors weren’t serving me. I used to behave as though I were immortal. I figured that I could eventually get to “doing it all”. I learned to let go of this idea and to focus on fewer things, cycling them out as interest waxes and wanes. (Or according to season – I don’t focus on snowshoeing in the summer.)

I learned that I had to be more present to be more productive. I needed to stop paying homage to my past self (by doing or having things that I used to feel were meaningful but no longer really care about) or hoarding for a future self that may never come.

Having fewer things means less time wasted in cleaning and organizing. Buying fewer things means less time spent earning money to pay for them.

As I embrace the concepts of minimalism, I’ve become clearer about what my priorities are. Knowing my priorities, I take special care to spend time each day and each week with them as the focus of my time and energy.

I’ve even found a means to structure time on days when I don’t have a set schedule. I break my repetitive tasks into four categories: “parenting”, “housework”, “writing and homework”, and “personal”. Then I cycle them on 15 minute or ½ hour basis (set to a timer) so that in an hour or two I have addressed them all. This works especially well for things like feeding and changing babies.

Major Goals: Minimalism and My Sustainability Efforts

I collected environmental tasks like some women collect shoes. The tasks grew so numerous that maybe I went a little crazy. And, sometimes, consistency went out the window due to overwhelm. I never thought that minimalism could help me with my environmentalism. As I’ve written before, minimalism seemed to be just about throwing stuff away – often adding to landfills.

I feel very differently about it now.

I use minimalism at the top of my hierarchy of decisions for environmental thinking. As Béa Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, would do: I first refuse what I do not need and then I reduce what I do need.

Minimalism has had a drastic effect on my consumption habits. I buy fewer items and I first consider whether I could do without or do with less. I look for multi-purpose and/or durable items. Consuming less limits a lot of considerations. I no longer have to worry about the waste or the company’s ethics when I decide that something does not serve a purpose in my life. I just don’t buy it (and thus don’t support things that are not adding value to my life). In paring down, and in buying used whenever possible, I can afford to put money toward perhaps pricier items from companies that do care.

I’ve streamlined my lifestyle which saves me time and energy to put toward things I know I value (as opposed to tasks that just ate my time). For example, I spend more time learning how to live eco-friendly and sharing what I’ve learned about sustainable living with others.

Still to Come: Minimalism and Books

One area that I still desperately need to minimize is my book collection and my attitudes and behaviors surrounding reading. I have 7 bookshelves in this room alone. A large proportion of them I have not even read. They sit here like a silent task list. Some of them tell tales of the hobbies I meant to get into or the skills I meant to learn. The fact is, their presence does not make me smarter or more capable.

I believe that by adopting the following behaviors, I will free myself. But only by being consistent with this for awhile will I know if this approach will work:

  • read 1 hour a day

  • read just one book at a time (textbooks, reference books, and workbooks don’t count)

  • only keep books that warrant re-reading or referencing

  • donate, sell, or gift the rest

  • do not buy a new book until I have decided what to do with the last one I bought (or picked up to read)

  • borrow novels from library or buy digitally

  • limit my personal collection to the large bookshelf

I am not done with minimalism by any means. This will be an ongoing process of self-reflection throughout my life.

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Simple Sustainability: Simple Gift-Giving

Want. Need. Wear. Read.

‘Tis the season. For buying too much stuff. Gigantic hauls under Christmas and Yule trees, gifts exchanged beside candelabras, gifts that represent consumption mania, environmental devastation, guilt trips, debt, and disappointment. Kids running out of steam before the present pile has been tackled.

Our gift-giving mantra for the kids has become: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” That totals up as four gifts for each of them.

The reasons we do this are many.

Firstly, it puts a cap on gifts; once we reach a certain number, we know we can end our shopping spree instead of continuously shopping from October through December. After we have acquired the items we can relax.

It also de-emphasizes gifts, making them a part of the holiday season and not the center of it. It’s really hard to ignore a gigantic pile of wrapped mystery in the family room. Instead of focusing on wrapped things, we’ve made family activities our priority.

Obviously, getting fewer presents will save us money. We’ve chosen to budget by putting a spending cap on the total amount as well as a cap for each category.

Acquiring fewer items serves our minimalist goals – we’re not cluttering up our homes as much.

By categorizing our consumption by “wants”, “needs”, “wears” and “reads”, we gain insight into the role each gift is taking in our lives. A pair of snow boots, for example, fulfills a need in our winter climate and allows our kids to see the value in getting a need met (hopefully!).

For inspiration purposes, this is what I mean by each category:

“Wants” = Games, toys, art and craft supplies, movies, hobby supplies, etc.

“Needs” = Functional clothes, bedding, winter gear, sport or club supplies, school supplies, etc.

“Wears” = Clothes for fun (such as a t-shirt with a favorite character on it), jewelry, hats, ceremonial, hand-made, etc.

“Reads” = Books, educational games/toys, magazine subscriptions, etc.

Furoshiki: The Japanese Art of Wrapping in Cloth

My main interest in simplifying my family’s gift-giving habits is environmental. I’ve always mourned the the heaps of wrapping paper discarded at the holidays.

This year, I discovered the Japanese art of wrapping in cloth, called furoshiki, and rejoiced. Since there are fewer presents overall, I have decided to wrap them in re-usable cloth. I already own festive cloth and decided to create a stock of square pieces in varying sizes. We should be able to use these year after year.

Furoshiki is typically done with square cloths between 18 inches and 28 inches wide. The size needed depends on the size of the gift, but a good stock size is 28 inches. There are many tutorials available over the internet for those wishing to embrace this art form.

Limiting Extra Gift-Giving Burdens

One of the most stressful things about the holiday time is the gift-giving game. This is the worry over social niceties and predicting who will give to you and what is required in return.

This spending to save face can lead to unwanted debt. And receiving can lead to unwanted clutter. Backing out of this game is not always possible, but we do try.

Sometimes explaining to friends and family that we’ve decided to simplify and would prefer not to receive gifts is enough. Sometimes we ask for money or experiences en lieu of gifts, but this then obligates us to give something in return. This can be stressful.

We’ve chosen to only give cards to our elderly family members (or those less digitally-minded). We include a few photos. We’ve chosen e-cards for our younger friends and family and include digital photos. We generally do not buy gifts for friends or family who aren’t visiting us during the holidays.

If we know someone will be here, we buy them a gift. We also make fudge batches to give as a pleasant, short order, and nearly universal gift for surprise visitors and gift-givers.

My Wish for You

I hope that this guide serves you this upcoming holiday season. I hope it brings more clarity and peace and less stress.             

Happy Holidays.

Posted in Minimalism, Zero Waste | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Let Minimalism Intimidate You

Minimalism has some baggage. People associate it with all kinds of things. Some believe that to be a minimalist you have to be a single, white, rich guy with only a backpack and a penchant for world travel. These assumptions make it pretty easy to write off minimalism as something that is simply unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing.

Even the assumption that minimalism is the goal and not the process or lens casts minimalism in the light of perfectionism – some distant goal that only the most righteous (or whatever) can achieve. Those who claim to be “a minimalist” are therefore under suspicion because, as we all know, no one is perfect.

Pointing fingers at other minimalists and telling them how they are not quite there because of x, y, or z totally sidesteps the value of minimalism.

Minimalism is actually quite accessible, beneficial, and personal and for the following six reasons, I hope that those who wish to pursue a more curated life don’t simply write it off as an elitist hobby.

#1: You Get to Make Your Own Rules

There is no magic number of items that fulfills everyone’s needs and heartfelt desires. What is crucial to have for some would simply be extravagance or clutter for others. We all have our own interests, talents, and life’s work. Almost everything we do requires appropriate props.

For example, as a writer, I need a computer, Internet connection, and books. Most instruments and art supplies, however, are wasted on me. I wouldn’t want a musician or visual artist to take my list of necessities to heart and deprive themselves of something that brings them joy and makes the world a more beautiful place.

Minimalism is about finding out what makes you tick and it allows you to focus on those things by pruning away those possessions, activities and thought patterns that you’ve collected over the years but only get in the way.

A concrete example is the rule I’ve adopted regarding kids’ books: if I don’t enjoy reading it, it gets donated (or immediately returned) to the library. Life is too short for multiple readings of unpleasant works. A minimalist who is not also a parent may never consider adopting such a rule. To each their own.

#2: Minimalism Can Help You Reach Your Goals

It is easy to spend our time spinning our wheels on useless or repetitive tasks and either lose focus or not recognize what our meaningful goals actually are. Even if we know what our goals are, we may find ourselves blocked from working toward them. Minimalism can help in both of these areas.

For example, I could easily follow my kids around and tidy all day long. Then, wake up and do the very same thing again. Not very productive or fulfilling. Instead, I’ve imposed strict limits on the amount of cleaning I’ll do each day so that I can focus on other things. This allows me to raise my children, not just to look after their messes. It also allows me to work and study and write and film and so on so that, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved something valuable to me that is far more lasting than a tidy room.

#3: Minimalism Isn’t Just for the Elite

I’ve heard the critique that minimalism is only for people with a lot of privilege. You know, those rich folks that can spend their free time decorating their mansions with white paint, green plants, and maybe one framed piece of artwork per room.

I believe this to be nothing more than a distancing mechanism. What does it matter if some people who practice minimalism are rich? Or poor? Snooty? Or down to Earth? It doesn’t bar the rest of us from benefiting from minimalism. We can all still examine our own situations in order to achieve more contentment and connection to what matters to us.

#4: Minimalism Can Make You Happier

I’ve heard that the secret to happiness isn’t to have what you want but to want what you have (a sort of trite observation attributed to multiple authors).

I’ve seen an immediate change in perspective, from feelings of lack to feelings of abundance, through practicing minimalism. Take my jeans, for example.

Yes, my jeans. I was culling my wardrobe when this insight first struck me. I was looking at all my bottoms (slacks, jeans, shorts, skirts) and noticing how few jeans I had. I had maybe 6 pairs, so I wasn’t running around naked, but I also wasn’t wearing many of them for one reason or another. (Like those jeans I was waiting to lose at least 5 pounds to fit into.)

I was putting together a capsule wardrobe and my somewhat arbitrary target was 33 items of clothes for the next three months. I had decided that in order to have a good balance, I needed about 4 bottoms. Already, this meant my 6 pairs were in excess of what I needed. I was no longer feeling lack. I needed to weed out two (or more if I wanted to wear something other than jeans) so those jeans that made me feel badly when I stepped on the bathroom scale? Out the door! How freeing!

I know this may seem a little shallow, talking about clothes and weight, but this was just the start of the insights that began to flow in. I realized that the media I consumed could help or hinder my feelings of contentment. That comparing myself to others instead of learning what was best for me could immediately affect my happiness. The list goes on. What a wonderful gift this change in perspective has been.

#5: Minimalism Can Save You Money

Minimalists still buy things, but we tend to focus our money in areas that really matter to us. This means buying a lot less on impulse.

It also means a greater awareness of where our money is going and re-evaluating our regular expenditures. For example, we might decide that by moving to a smaller home, we can save money to travel, if that is more important to us.

Another avenue for saving is that with fewer purchases overall being made, minimalists can spend a little extra money on quality things that last longer. When items last longer, replacements aren’t as big a drain on resources.

Finally, when minimalists cull their extra clutter, they can sell those things that no longer bring happiness and make some money at the same time.

#6: Minimalism Can Help Save the World

I’m an ambitious person. One of my life’s goals is literally to: “help save the world”. Why is a sustainability writer and environmentalist so interested in minimalism?

I believe that the adoption of minimalism is the simplest way to reduce our overall impact on the planet.

Minimalists are more likely to use less electricity, less fuel, less water, less natural resources, and so on.

No matter what choices a person faces, by becoming more conscious of our life’s direction and decisions, and by consuming less overall, we can’t fail to reduce our negative impacts and to support our positive impact.

Until next time, keep living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment