100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home

I have some exciting news to share with you today: I’ve published a new book!

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember a little series I used to do called “100 Possessions.” I’d select an item I owned, and explain why it deserves a place in my minimalist life.

They were some of my most popular posts, and many of you asked me to revive the series. So I started writing…but had so much fun, I couldn’t stop! Over the years, I’ve developed a sort of capsule household—a small collection of ultra-versatile items—and I wanted to show you everything. And thus, my new book was born:

100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

I’m often asked what inspired me to become a minimalist. The answer: I fell in love with traveling lightly.

After over-packing on a few trips, and suffering the misery of lugging around a heavy suitcase, I vowed henceforth to travel with just a small carry-on. The experience was exhilarating! I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, when I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. And I thought, wow, if it feels this great to travel lightly, how wonderful would it be to live this way?

I began to edit the contents of my home with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders. I became a decluttering diva, peeling away the layers of excess, working my way down to the essentials. I reduced and reduced and reduced, for well over a decade.

And then it hit me: how much faster and easier would it be if I started with a clean slate and worked my way up? In other words, what if I looked at my whole life as a journey and simply packed my “suitcase?”

In my book, The Joy of Less, I waxed poetic on the wonders of a capsule wardrobe—a small collection of ultra-versatile clothing to suit all my needs. I also speculated on how lovely it would be to have a capsule office: all my supplies in a single, portable box so I could work anywhere.

Why stop there? What a joy would it be to cook with a capsule kitchen, with just the favorite pots, pans, and tools I always reach for (and without having to rustle through less useful things to find them)?

In fact, we can apply this capsule concept to the entirety of our possessions—a capsule household, if you will. That’s the premise of 100 Essentials.

Click here to read the full Introduction…

It includes 100 full-color photos of my 35-Item Kitchen, 35-Item Wardrobe, and more.

Ultimately, it’s a new twist on decluttering: eliminate the excess by choosing your essentials. When your stuff is in sync with your needs, you can move through your days more gracefully and efficiently.

Whether you’re relocating, retiring, or just starting out, 100 Essentials helps you travel more lightly through life. It’s also a great resource for those who are living in small spaces (or dreaming of it).

My hope is you’ll join in the fun, and use my list as a springboard in making your own. I think we can have a blast sharing and debating our respective choices here on the blog! In fact, I’d love to launch a new series (similar to Real Life Minimalists) in which you, my readers, share your 100 Essentials.

And lest it sound too extreme, don’t worry: I take a friendly, flexible approach that allows for some Extras. I want this to be accessible and enjoyable for anyone who wants to try it. :)

As always, I’m deeply grateful for your support, and hope you’ll join me on this little escapade through my minimalist home!

Please note: 100 Essentials is currently available only as an ebook, as it’s cost-prohibitive to print in full color. But you don’t need a Kindle device; simply download one of the free Kindle Reading apps to your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc.

100 Possessions: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

When I was a carefree, world-traveling digital nomad, with no permanent address or mailbox, it was fairly easy to be paperless. I had few commitments, and little contact with people or organizations who found it necessary to bestow piles of printed matter upon me.

Now that I’m a homeowner with a child, being paper-free has become more of a challenge. In the past two years, paperwork has been flying at me in all directions: from mortgage statements, to home improvement invoices, to medical records, to school info, to utility bills that aren’t available electronically (I like to keep the latter to track water and energy use).

For the most part, I need the information, not the actual paper upon which it’s delivered. My minimalist filing system served me well in the past—I’d accumulate a year’s worth of bills, statements, etc., and scan what I needed at the end. I was also pretty diligent about scanning miscellaneous papers as they arrived. But with a two-year-old at the center of my attention, that’s not happening anymore; I just don’t have the time to scan individual documents with my slow-as-molasses flatbed scanner. My file box was beginning to bulge, and I realized that in order to keep up, I’d have to optimize the process—in other words, scan many more pages in the minimal time allotted.

I finally took the plunge and invested in a sheet-fed scanner, the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Regular readers know that I don’t do product reviews on my blog—I only mention items that I’ve purchased myself, and that have enhanced my minimalist lifestyle. So rest assured that Fujitsu has not provided me with any product or compensation—I shelled out 425 of my own hard-earned clams for this. (I have, however, used an Amazon affiliate link above; meaning that if you decide to buy one, a few dollars will go to support this blog and minimalist community.)

So, disclosures out of the way, how do I love thee, my little Fujitsu? Let me count the ways. You’re small: 11 x 6 inches, folding down to the size of a shoebox. You’re fast: 25 pages per minute according to the manufacturer, and I have no reason to doubt it. You never jam: your space-age roller and sensor thingy means I can feed you a healthy stack of paperwork without ever having to pry you open and extract a wrinkled mess. And finally, your software works beautifully with my Mac (which is more than I can say for my old flatbed).

I’m not one to splurge on gadgets, especially pricey ones. In fact, I have an aversion to expensive items in general, and rarely spend $425 on anything (I’d much rather have Nothing to Steal). But after six months of ownership, I’m pretty much in scanner love. I whipped through my backlog of paperwork in a few hours, and am now once again on my way to being as paperless as possible. Woo-hoo!

Bottom line: if you have more time than money, such a scanner is probably not necessary. But if you have more money than time, it could prove a worthy investment. (For the record, I tried to find a used one, to no avail–but now that it’s been out awhile, you may have better luck.)

So now I’m feeling ambitious, and looking for ways to leverage my new scanning superpowers. I have about a dozen books I’ve been carting around, from move to move, because they’re either out-of-print or hard to replace, and unavailable in electronic form. I would love, love, love to disassemble them, feed them through my scanner, and turn them into ebooks (my sincere apologies to all the booklovers who are cringing right now, but even as a writer I have no attachment to the printed page—see Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1 and Part 2).

The big question being: is it legal?

My impression is that it would fall under Fair Use: by destroying the hardcopy to make an electronic one, I’d essentially be trading one format for another (ie., I’d still end up with one copy, which is what I paid for). It would be solely for personal use, so there shouldn’t be any economic impact on the copyright holder (particularly if an electronic version isn’t even available).

Furthermore, in my internet research on the topic, I came across a company called 1DollarScan that offers this very service. I would imagine they’ve done their due diligence on the legal aspects; if publishers took issue with such scanning, they’d have been hit with a lawsuit by now.

Still, I’d like to be sure. Are there any lawyers who can weigh in on the legality of bookscanning for personal use? Inquiring minimalist minds want to know…

And on the broader topic, is anyone else striving to be paperless? Please share your strategies, triumphs, and tribulations in the Comments!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Turquoise Wellies

At first glance, this particular possession may seem way out of line with my minimalist principles. But hey, a girl’s gotta have a little fun, right?

Maybe they make me a bad minimalist—they’re not a basic color, and they don’t go with everything in my closet (though I typically pair them with anything anyway). They’re not lightweight, and they don’t fold down to nothing for easy storage and transport. And they’d take up way too much space in the minimalist’s proverbial backpack. ;-)

So why are they part of my life?

1. They’re practical. When I lived in England, I learned that in rainy weather, there’s nothing better than a pair of wellies to keep your feet warm and dry. They’ve gotten plenty of use, and I like to think that they’ve even staved off a cold or two.

2. They preserve my other (more delicate) shoes, meaning I don’t need to replace them as often. I’d go through many more shoes if I wore them all in the rain.

3. They brighten my day. Yes, I actually smile when I look out the window and see rain, simply because I can pull on my wellies. It’s like recapturing the joy of childhood, splashing around in puddles simply for the fun of it.

4. They appear (so far) to be virtually indestructible. I’m a big fan of things that last a l-o-n-g time. It’s a more efficient use of resources, and means I can avoid shopping.

5. They’re classic. The company (Hunter) has been making this style of boots since the 1950s; no worries about them going out of fashion!

6. They’re colorful. Yes, despite my white décor, and the blacks and grays in my closet, I do enjoy a shot of color here and there. Minimalists don’t have to live in monochrome. :)

In summary: if something has the power to bring a smile to my face on a rainy day, I think it deserves a place in my closet.

Although some may find my minimalism a bit extreme, I’m a big proponent of the Middle Way—in other words, finding a happy balance between too ascetic and too lavish a lifestyle. For even as we strip our lives to the essential, we still need to leave room for a little whimsy, a little fun, a guilty pleasure here and there.

Do you have a surprising possession in your minimalist life?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Laptop

When you live with as little as possible, every item has to pull its own weight. And the more needs a single thing can satisfy, the greater its value in a minimalist household.

With that in mind, if I had to pick my most “valuable” possession, it would be my laptop. It’s a true minimalist workhorse; not only has it enabled me to purge scores of other items, it’s also greatly reduced the amount of living and workspace I need.

How has my laptop helped simplify my life? Oh, let me count the ways! This one little device has eliminated the following physical things from my home:

1. Books and bookshelves. I now read almost exclusively on my laptop (and iPod Touch), and have replaced most of my physical books with digital versions. I’m grateful to be able to take my library with me each time I move, without the hassle of 20+ pound boxes (or alternatively, keeping them in storage until I settle down).

2. CDs. Gone are my days of accommodating CDs and their jewel cases, or trying to consolidate them in binders. All of my music is digital, and accessible anytime with the click of a mouse.

3. DVDs and DVD player. I never owned many DVDs to begin with, and feel no need to buy any now. Like my music, my movies are digital, and take up not an inch of space in my home.

4. Television. I have to admit, I love not owning a television! Moving is significantly easier, and I never have to worry about finding the proper orientation (or cable outlet) for it in each new apartment. My husband and I have found a laptop to be perfectly adequate for watching movies and TV shows (via hulu.com); this may not work for a family, but can be fine for one or two people.

5. Phone. I no longer have a landline, and simply use Skype for making calls from home.

6. Photo albums. I digitized my physical photos before I moved overseas, and rarely make prints from the ones I take. I find it easier, and more pleasurable, to share (and view) digital pics than those stuffed away in shoeboxes or albums.

7. Filing cabinet. As a writer, I’m often gathering research for various projects. I’ve become accustomed to taking all of my notes digitally, and printing online research to PDF files; in fact, thanks to my laptop, the process of writing my last two books was entirely paper-free.

8. Office supplies. By paying bills and conducting other business online, I’ve been able to live in large part without file folders, envelopes, paperclips, stapler, hole punch, and the myriad other items that accumulate in desk drawers.

9. Home office. Since I don’t need a desk, filing cabinet, or other office furnishings, I don’t need a dedicated room for conducting business—and therefore can live and work in a much smaller space.

10. Car. By serving as my productivity, communication, and storage device, my laptop enables me to make a living from home—thereby eliminating my need for a car to commute to work each day.

Of course, there’s a degree of vulnerability in relying on one device so heavily, and I use multiple forms of backup (external hard drive, cloud, etc.) to insure against data loss. I also need to be vigilant about digital clutter, as it’s much easier to squirrel something away when it doesn’t take up any space. Overall, though, I find these issues to be quite manageable—and certainly worth the ability to eliminate so many other things from my life!

What’s your opinion on technology? Does it simplify your life, or complicate it?

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Glass Plates and Bowls

After I graduated from college, I inherited a beautiful set of china from my grandmother. My fantasy self—the one who planned to throw fabulous dinner parties in her English manor house—was elated to own twelve place settings of vintage tableware. My real self, however—the one who carefully wrapped every dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, bowl, cup, and saucer during each move—became decidedly less enthusiastic about it over time.

After going through the painstaking process of packing and unpacking it at least four times (and constantly worrying about breaking an irreplaceable piece), I’d had enough. I finally gave the whole set to a less nomadic family member, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The irony: despite all the effort I put into preserving it, I’d used it on only one or two “special” occasions.

My dinnerware today is much simpler: four glass plates and two glass bowls, pictured above. Sure, it may not be as elegant—but it’s inexpensive, lightweight, and causes me not a whit of worry. The last time I moved, I didn’t even bother to wrap it up. Should I break a piece, I can simply nip on down to my local Ikea and pick up another ($0.99 in US, £0.70 in UK). And should I someday decide that transporting it is a hassle, I can donate it to a charity shop (or give it away on Freecycle), and spend about $6 to replace it at my new destination.

What about entertaining? So far, it hasn’t been a problem. We rarely have more than two guests for dinner, and if multiple courses are involved, I wash the plates in between. The very few times I’ve been short on tableware—like when I hosted Thanksgiving dinner—I’ve simply borrowed from friends and family. No one ever seemed put out by my request, but rather happy to contribute to the occasion. (I think the pooling of resources can enhance the warmth of a gathering, much like a potluck dinner!)

Certainly, I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the right plate (or enough plates) to accommodate every possible culinary situation. But that’s okay by me: what I have fits my current lifestyle, and when it comes to dinnerware, I’m perfectly content to “live on the edge.” ;-)

And though my grandmother’s set was lovely, I personally like the simplicity and versatility of plain glass. It blends with a variety of décor, is appropriate for any occasion, and most importantly, calls attention not to itself, but to its contents. For in the end, it’s what’s on the plate that really matters anyway!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Monk’s Bowl

monksbowl-c200It may come as a surprise to some, but not all of my possessions are uber-practical. Some commemorate my travels, give me pleasure to look at, or remind me of how I’d like to live.

This monk’s bowl is a recent acquisition, purchased on my December trip to Thailand. In Bangkok, there’s a tiny neighborhood called Soi Ban Baat (Monk’s Bowl Village), where residents have been making alms bowls for monks for generations. Although most such bowls are now made in factories, a few artisans continue the tradition, beating out the bowls by hand. They’re made of eight strips of metal, to symbolize the Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

While meandering around (ie. getting lost) in Bangkok on New Year’s Day, my husband and I happened upon one of these artisans. She was hammering out bowls right in an alcove off the street, and looked as if she’d been doing so her entire life. Fascinated, we stopped to watch her work. After a while, she came over to chat with us (her English, though limited, was much better than our Thai!), and offered to sell us one of her bowls.

Now, I’ve traveled to over thirty countries in the past few years, and I rarely ever bring back souvenirs. I’m perfectly content with my digital photos, and a handful of foreign coins. Something has to really speak to me to gain a ride back in my tiny bag. And this something did.

I’ll tell you why: on January 1, it’s Thai tradition to spend the day visiting Buddhist temples and making donations of food, necessities, and money. It’s considered both charitable, and a way to ensure happiness, health, and good luck for the coming year. So being in Thailand, that’s exactly what we did.

On approaching one of the temples, we heard a persistent clanging noise coming from inside. When we entered, we discovered the source of the sound: 108 metal monk’s bowls stood in a long row, and a line of people filed past them, dropping a coin into each one (108 is an auspicious number in Buddhism). Intrigued, we took our places in line and participated in this lovely ritual. I thought it was a beautiful way to symbolize the act of giving, and set a tone of generosity for the coming year.

So, back to Soi Ban Baat… With that experience fresh in my mind, I took the unusual step of acquiring a souvenir. Not only did I appreciate the beauty of the bowl itself; I loved the Buddhist ideals it represented, and welcomed the opportunity to support this artisan’s way of life.

But don’t worry—it won’t become a dusty knick-knack. In the same spirit as the Thai temple, we’re using it as a reminder that giving should always be at the forefront of our lives: it’s collecting our spare change and spontaneous “donations,” that (when full) will go to our charity of choice.

The point: minimalist living doesn’t mean swearing off every non-practical possession. In fact, the beauty or symbolism of a material object can be a positive influence on our lives. It can bring back memories, delight our senses, and remind us of our ideals and values. It’s simply a matter of being mindful of our choices.

I’d love to know what non-necessities have earned a place in your lives–please share in the Comments!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Glass Tumblers

glasses-200Once upon a time, my husband and I had a cupboard full of glasses: water glasses, juice glasses, pint glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, even whiskey glasses. Name a beverage, and we likely had a special glass for it.

In hindsight, it seems ridiculous – but we hadn’t gone out and purchased them all at once. They just slowly accumulated over the years we lived in our house. Some we bought for daily needs, some we received as gifts, and some we acquired for special occasions.

Some we used every day, and some we used just once or twice a year. But because they generally came four to six in a set, we had far too many for a household of two.

When we moved to the UK, we said “enough” to all those glasses. Since they didn’t make the trip overseas, we had a chance to start over – and we did so with the four simple tumblers pictured above.

Our strategy was to start with those, and add more only when absolutely necessary. As we’d moved to a foreign country where we knew very few people, we didn’t anticipate throwing big cocktail or dinner parties.

Well, I’m happy to report that eighteen months later, we haven’t found need to add to our collection. Our various beverages taste perfectly fine in the same simple glass – who knew?

My greatest concern had been wine. Would the lack of a fancy glass do a disservice to a fine vintage? Maybe – but since our bottles of choice are generally in the sub-$10 category, I needn’t have worried. In fact, while traveling through Europe, I’ve been thrilled to discover that the restaurants we love most (rustic, down-to-earth, family-run) serve their wine the same way. I’m sure many a connoisseur would disagree, but I’ve come to prefer a simple glass over fussy stemware.

Ah, but what if we need to entertain? Well, we rarely host dinner for more than four people; and if called upon to do so, glasses would likely be the least of my worries (after plates, flatware, seating, and oh yes, a dining table). If the occasion arose, I would rent or borrow what’s needed, depending on the scale of the affair. At this semi-nomadic time in my life, I can’t justify owning all that stuff for a giant “what if?”.

So what do you think – have I violated all sorts of culinary decorum here? What’s the glass / people ratio in your household?

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: Little Black Dress

littleblackdress-2mSometimes people ask me if minimizing your wardrobe involves ditching all your old clothes and buying sleek new ones. Certainly not! In fact, some of the oldest items in my closet are my favorites.

For example, this little number here. I purchased it from J. Crew in…{drumroll, please}…1998!

This little black dress is the closest thing I have to a uniform. During the summer, I wear it at least once a week—usually on its own, but sometimes dressed up with a scarf or jewelry. In colder weather, I pair it with a cardigan, tights, and my knee-high boots.

Why do I love it?

1. It’s versatile. I can dress it up or down with a simple change of accessories.

2. It travels well. I can fold it, roll it up into a ball, or leave it in a heap on the floor and it doesn’t wrinkle. It’s been all over the world with me.

3. It wears like iron. I’ve been donning this dress regularly for 13 years (!), and it’s still going strong. The tag says it’s made out of 75% rayon, 17% nylon, 8% spandex. Is that the reason for its longevity? Or is it because…

4. It’s “Made in USA.” Oh, how that little tag makes me smile!

5. It’s incredibly comfortable. The material is soft, and there’s enough stretch that I have complete freedom of movement. It feels more like a second skin than a dress, and I could probably play a sport in it if I wanted to.

I know my beloved dress won’t last forever, and I’ve kept an eye out for a replacement for some time. Unfortunately, it seems that clothing quality has gone drastically downhill over the last few years. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but from what I’ve seen, the fabrics are cheap, the cuts are poor, and almost everything’s made in China.

I suspect that when it comes time to replace my wardrobe staples, I’ll be heading to a tailor. I’d rather select a quality fabric, and have something custom-made, than buy a flimsy item made under sweatshop conditions.

So, what’s the oldest item in your closet? And do you have any recommendations on where to find classic, well-made clothing these days?

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

100 Possessions: My Handbag

I’ve decided to start a new series here on Miss Minimalist called “100 Possessions.” My intent: to feature each item I own, and explain why I chose to include it in my minimalist life.

Sure, it may seem ironic to be talking about stuff on a minimalist blog. However, given that the majority of us are not Buddhist monks, we need a certain amount of things to function (and be comfortable) in our homes, jobs, and daily lives.

Furthermore, as minimalists, we must be mindful of, and make smart decisions about, the things we own—because the more versatile and functional each item, the less overall we need.

I’m calling the series “100 Possessions” not because I think we should limit our things to an arbitrary number. Rather, I regard it as a metaphor for the carefully-chosen things that have earned a place in our lives.

I think it’d be great to open up a dialogue about our consumer (or should I say minsumer?) choices. I receive emails every day asking for particulars about my wardrobe, luggage, cosmetics, shoes, electronics—you name it, I’ve been asked about it. Well, I’ll share my choices with you; and I hope you’ll share yours as well!

In fact, I’ve started a group photo pool on Flickr called “100 Possessions.” I invite you all to upload photos of your own things, and let us know why they merit a place in your minimalist life.

I’m kicking off the series with a topic near and dear to many minimalistas: handbags. Like many of you, I’ve engaged in a long quest to find the “perfect” bag. Something that works in every season, with every outfit, for every occasion. I only want to own one, after all.

Have I found it? Quite possibly. Here’s my current carryall of choice:

Miss Minimalist's handbag

Miss Minimalist's handbag

Why did I choose it? Ah, let me count the reasons!

1. It’s black—which means it goes with all my shoes, and everything in my wardrobe. It’s also less likely to show stains, and general wear, than a lighter-colored bag.

2. It’s made of seatbelts. I love the fact that the material is vegan, wipes clean, and doesn’t scratch like leather or stain like cloth. It appears to be virtually indestructible—perfect for someone who, once they find something they like, wants it to last forever.

3. It’s versatile. It has a feminine shape, and slight sheen, making it appropriate for dressier occasions (like going to a nice restaurant), as well as casual wear.

4. It zips across the top, making it secure in crowded places and on public transit. (Note: for those thinking of ordering this, the bag comes standard with a magnetic closure–I requested a zipper instead.)

5. It has an adjustable cross-body strap, which I prefer (for versatility, for security, and to keep my hands free).

6. It’s lightweight. I can easily toss it into my suitcase when I travel.

7. It folds flat for easy storage, so no need to find extra shelf space for it in the closet.

8. It was handmade by an Etsy artisan, rather than being mass-produced.

So that’s what I’m sporting on a daily basis. I’d love to hear about your choice of everyday bag—be it purse, tote, backpack, messenger bag, etc. Tell us about it in the Comments.

I think this series will be a fun break from the more serious, philosophical posts. I can’t wait to trade ideas with you on how we can live beautiful lives with less stuff!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}