100 Essentials: Turkish Bath Towel

{This series is based on my latest book, 100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home. In it, you’ll find the full list of my personal possessions, with detailed explanations and 100 color photos—including my 35-item kitchen, 35-item wardrobe, and more. I hope this series will start some interesting discussions on what you can’t live without!}

Shall we talk about towels? They may seem a trivial item, but they often commandeer a good chunk of our storage space. They’re big, fluffy, and seem to multiply of their own accord. I remember, in my pre-minimalist days, struggling to extract (and return) bath sheets to a jam-packed linen closet. And if they weren’t folded just so, the entire stack would look a mess.

As I minimized, I tackled this issue from two directions: downsizing our number of towels, and downsizing the towels themselves.

And guess what I discovered in the process? Towels don’t have to be big and fluffy to get you dry.

It’s a common assumption that the towels par excellence are the lofty, luxurious, spa-like variety. I once subscribed to that view, too, and devoted far too much closet space to housing them. And then I discovered the pestemal.

Pestemals are flat woven towels of a special Turkish cotton. They’re soft, lightweight, and absorbent, but best of all, take up about a quarter of the space of a traditional plush towel. (In other words, a stack of four Turkish towels is roughly equivalent to one “fluffy” towel.) They also dry more quickly, both by air and machine. Truly, they’re the stuff of dreams for those in tiny houses, boats, RVs, and micro apartments.

I’m so enamored with Turkish towels that our family uses them exclusively. Each of us has one in a different color/pattern (my daughter was particularly excited to pick out her lilac one). Yes, one towel per person is living on the edge—but as your minimalist guide, I had to see if it could be done. I’m happy to say that yes, it can, and so far we’ve never been inconvenienced by a lack of bath towels. They go straight from the dryer to the towel rack, so no storage necessary.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, we also keep two towels for guests, as we usually have friends and family for weeklong stays every 2-3 months.)

I do have some advice for anyone tempted to take the plunge: be patient with your pestemal. The first few times you use it, you probably won’t be impressed. My husband would joke about drying off with his “Turkish paper towel.” We couldn’t understand why our brand new pestemals were so inferior to the “used” ones in our Istanbul hotel. But that turned out to be the key—pestemals get better (that is, softer and more absorbent) with each trip through the washing machine. By the sixth wash or so, they were performing acceptably and have only improved since. If you’re initially disappointed, do give it at least a dozen launders before you throw in the towel. ;-)

So please, tell me about your towels! Does anyone else use pestemal, or something similar? I’d love to hear about your bath towel of choice, and learn about other textile marvels from around the world.

{If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love 100 Essentials. It contains all the super-versatile, high-performing items that have helped me streamline my life.}

The Joy of One: Bath and Beauty

For the latest installment in my Joy of One series, I’d like to talk about cosmetics, bath items, personal care products, and the like. Though disposable in nature, we often don’t dispose of them—opting to buy a new color or scent or formulation before we’ve used up our old ones. Oftentimes we get them for free from cosmetic counters and hotels (those tiny toiletries are super-cute and hard to resist). They accumulate in our drawers and cabinets, and on our countertops and shelves, and can lead to a real clutter problem. So even though we may not consider them “possessions,” they’re certainly worth discussion.

Interestingly, when I broach this topic with family and friends, some find One Shampoo or One Lipstick or One Nail Polish ridiculous, and others find it ridiculously easy. I’m really looking forward to your Comments on this, as I expect they’ll reflect a wide range of experiences and opinions.

For my part, there was a time when I would have laughed at the notion of limiting my bath and beauty products to one of each. Variety is the spice of life, right? But then I started to travel, and in the interest of packing lightly, did precisely that on my trips. And you know what? Instead of feeling deprived, I actually liked not having to make decisions every morning on which products to use. I liked having a single cleanser or a signature lipstick that I never had to think about. It seemed to make my life a little easier, my mind a little clearer, and my mornings (and evenings) a little smoother.

So I narrowed down my everyday products to the following: one soap, one shampoo, one face cleanser, one toothpaste, and one moisturizer with sunscreen. For cosmetics, I have one mineral powder, one concealer, one lipstick, one blush, and one eyeshadow (the latter two for more formal and professional occasions).

I found streamlining my beauty supplies helpful from the start, but it was after my daughter was born that I experienced the true Joy of One in this area. The ability to fly through my morning routine when I had an infant who needed to be fed, then a toddler tearing through the house, and now a preschooler to get ready for school, has been invaluable. (And when you’re using your One Lipstick, there’s no chance of your little one commandeering another to decorate herself or the walls!)

It seems trivial, but those hundreds of little decisions we make every day—like what moisturizer or makeup to use—can add up to some serious decision fatigue. Conversely, the less energy we expend on trivial matters, the more we have for important ones.

Sure, sometimes I need a change or want to try something new—but I usually wait until I use up my old one. If I’m truly unhappy with it, or it’s nearing the end of its shelf life, I’ll dispose of it. In fact, the limited shelf life of many beauty products provides ample opportunity for turnover. Liquids and creams—especially those worn on or around the eyes—have a lifespan of three to six months, while powdered foundation, concealer, blush, and lipstick generally last for a year. So don’t fret too much about getting bored with your selection; in a matter of months, you can replace your current One with a new One anyway.

Truth be told, many of you will surpass me on this and achieve the Joy of None. I absolutely love and admire and celebrate anyone who can go shampoo- or makeup-free. I wish I could do it. I want to do it. I will do it someday. But I’m not there yet. (My nails have been bare for years; that’s a step in the right direction, huh?) So the Joy of One is a nice compromise—my personal “enough” between many and none. For me, at this time, it’s lagom.

And you may find it lagom, too. If you’re intrigued by the Joy of One concept, but find One Coat or One Shoe or One Pan too extreme, this could be a wonderful place to test the waters. For each beauty product, choose your favorite and clear your shelves of the rest. Give it a week, or a month, or longer and see what it’s like to have One. When you experience the extra space it brings to your counters, your schedule, and your mind—and the ease with which it was achieved—you may be inspired to experiment with One in other parts of your life!

I’d love to know what you think of this challenge: easy, hard, something you already do? Are you one of those amazing Joy of None people? Do tell!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider joining my email list or reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide. Pre-order the new edition before April 26, and receive a thank-you bouquet of one dozen decluttering printables!}

My Minimalist Bathroom Makeover

For the last two months, my husband and I have been tearing out all the “storage” in our newly-purchased 1920s house. (Don’t worry—not original built-ins, but renovations that had been done in the 80s and 90s.)

Why? Because when you’re minimalists, you don’t have a lot to store—and all those closets, cabinets, consoles, and pantries take up precious living space!

For example, here’s the “before” shot of our bathroom:

Before: cramped bathroom with too many cabinets

Before: cramped bathroom with too many cabinets

It measures only 6’ x 8’, and the under-counter cabinets lining both walls left only the tiniest pathway to move around. Not only was it cramped for us adults—but our 3-year-old daughter attempts to incorporate ballet moves into every task she does (brushing teeth, drying off after a bath), and was forever banging into some fixture or other. The biggest problem: the bathroom was built for storage, not for activity.

You can see our solution in the “after” shot below: tear out all the cabinets! (And since we were moving fixtures, we decided to redo the tile in a more timeless style.)

After: minimalist bathroom with lots of space

After: minimalist bathroom with lots of space

The only storage that remains is in the 24” vanity and the small medicine cabinet on the wall. I love how it’s made us streamline our toiletries to the bare essentials—toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a chosen few lotions and potions. It’s almost like being on vacation.

It’s amazing how a little extra space can improve your life! We start our days in a serene, spa-like environment where everything has its place—making our morning routine calmer and more smoothly accomplished. My daughter can dance to her heart’s content with fewer bruises and admonishments to be careful. And our evening ablutions are done with ease and efficiency, leaving us all in a more relaxed frame of mind as we turn in for the night.

Sometimes we look around at our clutter and think, “why bother?” What’s the difference if I have some extra bottles of shampoo or a drawerful of tiny toiletries from my last hotel stay? Is it really worth the effort to clear out the excess?

Yes, yes, yes! A little decluttering can make a world of difference in your mood and outlook. No more frustration, no more feeling cramped, no more digging through cabinets to find what you need. The more simplified your space, the more easily and gracefully you can get through your days.

Watch out, kitchen cabinets—you’re next!

{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.}

My Minimalist Bathroom

Earlier this year, when we were living in a hotel, we had a TV for the first time in two years. We rarely turned it on, except for a few days when sidelined with the flu—at which time we managed to catch some episodes of House Hunters on HGTV.

I’m always amused when buyers on such shows complain that a bathroom doesn’t have double sinks or a Jacuzzi tub. As a renter, I’m just happy if it’s clean, the toilet flushes, and hot water comes out of the taps. It’s a special bonus if it’s not covered in garish-colored tiles, or sporting fake wood cabinets.

So anyway, I thought I’d share photos of my minimalist bathroom with you today. Not because it’s particularly special, but because it isn’t particularly ugly—and I know you guys always like pictures. Few of us will ever have the kind of spa-like retreats pictured in design magazines, so I thought it’d be fun to show a real life example. A minimalist bathroom doesn’t have to have marble tile, fancy fixtures, or an orchid on the countertop. By keeping things simple and clutter-free, even a basic bathroom can be serene and soothing.

I know someone will add “sterile”—but hey, it’s a rental! :) We’re forbidden to paint or hang stuff on the walls, so there’s little opportunity for personalization. Looking at these photos, I think a small bowl of flowers on top of the cabinet would look lovely; however, it’s the only work surface in the entire room, and a decorative object would compete with more practical things (like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, etc.) when the space is in use. In my opinion, a bathroom is first and foremost a functional space, so bare it shall likely remain.

Since I’ve been moving around so much, this is my fifth bathroom in less than a year. Here’s a few things I commonly do in my quick and cheap makeovers:

1. Pretty shower curtain. Actually, this is our first place in the past year that didn’t have a glass screen. In this case we replaced a dingy yellow curtain, and it’s amazing how this simple aesthetic change makes me smile every morning. My personal preference is something white or translucent, and PVC-free.

2. Adequate storage. We have a small cabinet to keep things off the floor and sink. Inside, there are two shelves: one for my toiletries, the other for my husband’s.

3. White towels. They’re not visible in the above shots, but they’re there.

4. Little touch of color. I chose an aqua bath rug because I love the color (it also matches my Dr. Bronner’s over there in the tub!). Alternatively, you may choose to add color with your towels or shower curtain.

5. Multi-purpose products. I became accustomed to using soap/shampoo combos while traveling, and love how they prevent a hodgepodge of items from gathering in the bath.

6. Clutter-free surfaces. Keeping things tucked away means more maneuverability in a small space—in other words, no worries about knocking a bottle onto the floor or a toothbrush into the toilet. Clear surfaces are also more hygienic, and easier to clean.

7. Clean, clean, clean. In my opinion, fresh and sparkling trumps fancy and expensive any day. Consider using natural cleansers like baking soda and vinegar—they’re kinder to the environment, and save you from having to buy (and store) a variety of specialty products.

Certainly, my humble bathroom will never grace the pages of a shelter magazine. However, I hope it provides a little inspiration to clear out the clutter, and make the best of what you have!

What are your techniques for keeping clutter out of the bathroom?

{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.}

Minimalist Beauty: 11 Ways to Look Gorgeous without Chemicals

Last week’s post on The Story of Cosmetics inspired a lively discussion on natural beauty alternatives. Many thanks to everyone who commented! I’ve decided to gather up the information that was shared, plus a few extras, and consolidate it into a Minimalist Beauty post.

So here you have it: eleven ways to minimize the chemicals in your beauty routine (and still look gorgeous!).

1. Wash your face with honey. Used as a facial wash, honey tightens pores, moisturizes skin, and is believed to help treat and control acne. Simply wet your face with warm water, massage with a tablespoon of raw, unprocessed honey, and rinse well. Or, apply it as a mask, and let it sit 15-20 minutes before washing it off. I’ve been doing this for some time, and have been quite pleased with the results.

2. Use witch hazel as a toner. It’s natural, gentle, and alcohol-free, and won’t dry out skin like chemical-based formulas. Witch hazel refreshes your skin, and removes excess oils and impurities. I tried this a while back, and was perfectly happy with it — just too lazy to keep it up. Although I don’t currently feel the need for this extra step in my beauty routine, I would use witch hazel if I did.

3. Moisturize with olive oil. Other suggestions from the Comments included coconut oil, almond oil, and jojoba oil. I’m a little nervous to try this, as I’m afraid to break out or look greasy; when I work up the courage to give this a whirl, I’ll let you know.

4. Shampoo with baking soda, and rinse with apple cider vinegar. This natural combo is a popular alternative to shampoo. First, dilute a tablespoon of baking soda with enough water to make a loose paste, then massage it into your scalp. After rinsing it out, pour an apple cider vinegar and water solution over the ends. (See Nature Moms No ‘Poo post for complete instructions.)

5. Make a facial with oatmeal. I’m not really a facial kind of gal, but if I ever fancy one, I like the idea of oatmeal. The simplicity of it appeals to me: just mix dry oatmeal and water into a paste and spread it on your face. Let it dry, then rinse with warm water. It’s supposed to have a wonderful calming effect on the skin, reducing irritation and inflammation.

6. Use tea tree oil for blemishes. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that kills bacteria without chemicals – simply dab a bit on the inflamed spot morning and night. It’s a great way to avoid the harsh ingredients in acne creams (which can further irritate skin).

7. Use one natural bar soap for body, hair, and teeth. This tip was mentioned a few times in the Comments; and while I was aware that one could use the same bar soap for hair and body, I would have never considered brushing my teeth with it! Cool idea!

8. DIY. Search the internet, and you’ll find plenty of recipes for making your own soap, lotions, shampoos, facials, and cosmetics from natural (and edible) ingredients. Check out Tammy’s (Rowdy Kittens) recent post on How to Make Your Own Cosmetics.

9. Choose products with natural ingredients. If you don’t want to cook up your own potions, start reading labels more carefully. Dawn Michelle lists chemicals to avoid in this post on her Minimalist Beauty blog, and the Skin Deep cosmetics database provides safety ratings for thousands of personal care products. “Natural” brands recommended in the Comments include Dr. Bronner’s, Fresh Line, Giovanni, Dr. Hauschka, Suki, and Aubrey’s Organics.

10. Drink plenty of water. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water per day hydrates your skin, helps it maintain its elasticity, and gives it a healthy, natural glow. An added bonus: it’s also good for the rest of your body, helping to lubricate joints and flush out toxins and impurities.

11. Get your beauty sleep. Sounds simple, but this can be a tough one for night owls like me (I do my best work at night!). Lately, however, I’ve been making a real effort to get the recommended eight hours of sleep. I’ve noticed that when I do, my skin looks smoother and more radiant. It’s also a great way to avoid dark, under-eye circles (and the concealer or makeup needed to cover them up!).

Keep the tips coming! I’d love to hear more about your natural (and minimal) beauty routines.

The Story of Cosmetics

My main reason for pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is that I enjoy an uncluttered environment. Nothing makes me happier than a sparse, open space with little visual distraction. I also love the freedom that results when you don’t have a lot of stuff to worry about, care for, and move around.

However, I also have a second reason for practicing minimalism: I’m worried about the impact of all that stuff on the world and its people. I’m concerned about how the manufacture and disposal of material goods affect the environment, and how the chemicals contained in them affect our health.

With the latter point in mind, I was thrilled to discover Annie Leonard’s latest addition to her Story of Stuff series: The Story of Cosmetics.

The video was just released yesterday, and is well worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to view it. In a nutshell: it explains that many of the personal care products (creams, lotions, shampoos, cosmetics) we use each day contain toxic ingredients, which are in large part unregulated by the FDA. The chemicals are present in small amounts, but the long term effects of smearing them on our heads, faces, and bodies every day are unknown.

Since I first read about such issues a few years ago, I’ve drastically cut back on the products I use – eliminating things like perfume, nail polish, mascara, and fancy skin creams. I generally stick to a sunscreen/moisturizer combo, lip balm, and minimal makeup (light powder, lipstick, and occasional eyeshadow) when I need to look professional. I’ve also been seeking less-toxic alternatives to my favorite shampoo, body wash, and deodorant, with the help of the Skin Deep cosmetic database.

In the process, I’ve found that being mindful of the products I use has made me even more of a minimalist. Questioning the ingredients in my lotions and potions has not only decreased the chemicals I put on my skin — it’s cleared my bathroom shelves, streamlined my morning routine, and made it that much easier to travel light. :-)

I encourage all of you to take a look at Annie’s illuminating video; and if you’d like to see more regulation of the chemicals in our personal care products, please ask your local representative to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.

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

How to Create a Minimalist Bathroom

How wonderful it would be to have a bathroom with simple lines, gleaming white surfaces, not a toiletry in sight…ahh…

Seem out of reach? Don’t despair! You can achieve a similar “clean and serene” look in your own home—even if designer Italian fixtures aren’t in the budget.

Just follow these ten tips for creating a minimalist bathroom, and you’ll have a space that soothes your soul while you brush your teeth.

The basics:

1. Empty all the (moveable) contents out of the bathroom. Yes, really. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find that don’t really need to be there: that moisturizer that made you break out, the hotel samples you brought home from your last vacation, the curling iron you haven’t used in a decade.

2. Go through your daily routine, and put back only those items you use on an everyday basis. If you don’t touch it at least once a day, it doesn’t belong in your bathroom. Keep those seldom-used items in a box in your linen closet instead.

3. Create ample storage. Make sure you have enough storage to keep all items hidden (preferably behind opaque, mirrored, or frosted doors), even if this means adding a cabinet to the space. It’s important that everything have a place.

4. Keep surfaces clear. If you follow only one tip in this article, make it this one. Clear surfaces are the key to a minimalist bathroom. Do whatever’s necessary to keep your hairbrush, deodorant, razor, eye shadow, and other sundries off the countertop.

5. Keep it clean. Basic cleanliness goes a long way towards making your space more serene. Give surfaces a quick wipe down once a day to maintain that spotless look.

The extras: (if you want to go a step beyond…)

6. Paint the walls white (or a very light color). White walls make a small space feel larger and airier, and create a sense of uniformity. To achieve a minimalist look, you want the walls to “disappear;” the less obtrusive you can make them, the better.

7. Replace old-fashioned fixtures with modern ones. This doesn’t mean you have to spend big money on a designer faucet. Simple, streamlined fixtures can be obtained at reasonable prices from home improvement centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

8. Replace the shower curtain with a glass or acrylic door. If this isn’t an option, choose a simple clear or white curtain.

9. Use white towels for a luxurious, spa look. Nothing will ruin your minimalist look faster than a hodgepodge of mismatched towels.

10. Accessorize with one decorative item like a single candle, orchid, or glass bowl of pebbles.