How a Minimalist Loses a Vase

(Photo: DesignTorget)

I travel quite often, and rarely bring back souvenirs from anywhere. I’ve learned that once something has memories, it can be a bear to declutter later on; so I save myself the trouble and typically return only with digital photos and some leftover foreign coins.

However, when I visited Oslo, I found myself in a chic Scandinavian design shop—and couldn’t resist bringing home one of its wares.

Before I continue, let me give you the backstory. On our first Christmas in the UK, a dear friend sent us a beautiful bunch of white tulips. My husband and I were 3000 miles away from friends and family, and her wonderful gesture really brightened our holiday. The problem: having just moved overseas, we hadn’t yet bought a vase. Furthermore, we knew we were likely to move again by year’s end, and were reluctant to acquire a heavy glass piece that would be difficult to transport and awkward to store. So instead, I made an impromptu one from an empty bottle of sparkling water (it actually didn’t look half bad).

Fast forward to our Oslo trip, where I see the solution to this particular domestic problem: a minimal, collapsible vase (see photo above). It’s completely transparent, folds flat, and is light as a feather. You simply fill it with water, add your flowers, then empty it out and flatten to store. It may not be as elegant as a proper glass vase, but it’s vastly more convenient when you live a mobile lifestyle.

So this weekend I saw some beautiful flowers at a farmer’s market, and thought my clever minimalist vase would make a nice little blog post. But when I returned home, I encountered a dilemma: neither I, nor my husband, could remember the last time we’d laid eyes on it.

Now, when you live in a tiny apartment with a minimal amount of stuff, you don’t lose things. It’s practically impossible. I can rattle off almost everything I own, and exactly where it is. (When our apartment was robbed many years ago, I was able to give the police officer an inventory of the stolen items within minutes.)

Convinced it had to be around somewhere, we conducted an exhaustive search of our small space. We looked inside our closets, cabinets, and travel bags. We looked in between clothes, pots and pans, and our small stash of books and paperwork. No luck—it was nowhere to be found. I have no idea if it disappeared during one of our several moves, or if it has simply slipped into some crevice here, eluding our eyesight.

Oh, the irony.

So what profound philosophical insight can we glean from this minimalist misadventure? Not much, really—to be honest, I just found it kind of amusing (and thought some of you might like the vase). If anything, I would say it’s a little reminder to keep everything in moderation. If we take our minimalism to extremes (like buying a vase that’s barely visible!), we may run the risk of things slipping away. Remember, minimalism isn’t about owning 100 things, or 50 things, or less—but rather what’s just enough for you.

Or, perhaps the message is even simpler—that life has a way of telling us we don’t need certain things after all. ;-)

{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.}

Dreaming of a Cottage Life

This time of year, I can’t help but dream about living in a little holiday cottage, either by the sea or in the countryside. I yearn to spend every minute of my summer outdoors, enjoying greenery, flowers, butterflies, breezes…and coming inside only to prepare a simple meal or go to sleep (The Simple Poppy beautifully articulated similar sentiments in a recent post).

Of course, this is completely at odds with the urban environment in which I’m currently living, so I’ve had to be content with Google searches and digital photos (and perhaps a short stay in one later this summer).

I’m traveling this week to attend a wedding, so instead of a long, wordy post, I’m simply going to share some of the cottages I’ve been swooning over (click on the link below each set of photos for more pictures and details):

I’ll leave you to ponder this:

* If you lived in one of these tiny houses, what exactly would you need?

* How would you pare down your current possessions to fit?

* Would you be content with the barest of furnishings, a handful of clothes, and some basic cooking implements?

* Would you miss the rest of your stuff, or be relieved to be without it?

* How would it feel to live every day like you’re on vacation?

I hope these little beauties fill your soul with a sense of peace, simplicity, and serenity—and perhaps inspire you to pare down, unplug, and do a clean sweep of the clutter in your life.

Empty, White, and Beautiful

For the first time in months, I feel like I’m back in my element. Let me explain…

My husband and I have been drifting since February—living in a succession of hotels and sublets—because we’re reluctant to commit to long-term housing. It’s an interesting, and liberating, way to live; the only downside is that most short-term housing is furnished, leaving you with little control over your visual environment.

One thing I’ve learned from this experience: my surroundings have a big psychological effect on me.

My last two “homes” both had brightly-colored walls, plenty of pictures and décor, and lots and lots and lots of furniture. Now, don’t get me wrong—these were lovely places that most people would find delightfully warm and charming.

I, on the other hand, could never quite adjust to all the visual stimulation—especially while trying to work from home. How I yearned for one blank wall to rest my gaze upon! It got to the point where I’d close my eyes, and imagine myself sitting in a stark white room—just for a few moments of mental peace and clarity.

Lest you dismiss this as the rantings of a crazy minimalist, scientists have found that a visually chaotic environment restricts your ability to focus. I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree!

But before you worry that my blog implodes because of this turn of events, I have happy news to report. This week, we moved into our latest abode, a small one-bedroom sublet in a converted factory. Oh, what a wondrous sight—high ceilings, huge windows, and glorious bare white walls!

Summer sublet

And since we’re finishing out the lease of the current tenants, we got a great deal by taking it unfurnished. After four months of navigating around other people’s sofas, tables, chairs, and desks, the emptiness is heavenly.

Overall, the effect is airy, ethereal, and serene—and makes my spirit feel the same.

I’ll admit, an unfurnished sublet is not the most practical choice. Since we’re only here for three months, and have no idea where we’ll move next, we won’t be acquiring much. But you know what? I’m looking forward to living this summer with the absolute minimum—a coffee table and a mattress, to be exact—and having plenty of space to do yoga. It’s a little like camping indoors. :)

Over the next few months, the property manager will be showing the place to potential new tenants. I can’t imagine what they’ll think of our sparsely-furnished space (that we’re strange? poor? on the lam?), but I honestly don’t care. Because at the moment, I am staring at this empty room, with its empty walls—and I can’t stop smiling.

Does anyone else have trouble concentrating in a cluttered room? Do you share my love for an empty, white space? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Minimalist Home: Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff

a(Photo via Apartment
Therapy
)

The most frequent criticism I hear about minimalist homes is that they’re “cold,” “sterile,” or “uninviting.”

Of course, such criticisms usually come from people who aren’t minimalists; and in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about your home but you.

However, sometimes our decluttering efforts can suck the warmth out of our space. We’re so focused on elimination, that we forget about our aesthetic needs—those little visual cues that make us (and our families) feel comfortable in our homes.

Never fear: your living room doesn’t have to look like Pottery Barn to have charm and character. Here are some ways to cozy up your space without adding more stuff:

1. Choose natural materials. When your furnishings and décor are few, natural materials convey a wonderful sense of warmth. For example: a reclaimed wood table, a wool area rug, beeswax candles, linen napkins.

2. Add texture. This is a great way to add visual interest, especially with a monochromatic color scheme. A chunky handknit throw, nubby wool upholstery, or hammered metal bowl are subtle, elegant alternatives to chintz and frills.

3. Decorate with nature. Skip the home décor stores, and decorate with a plant, vase of flowers, cluster of branches, or unusual rocks you’ve gathered on a hike. They’re inexpensive (or free!), and add a beautiful, organic look to your space.

4. Use light as décor. During the day, throw open the curtains or blinds (or consider letting your windows go naked) to maximize natural light. In the evening, a few candles or string of white lights can create a romantic, magical glow.

5. Use color. A coat of paint is the easiest way to liven up a room without adding stuff; even a single wall of color can have a dramatic effect. However, if (like me) you’re a devotee of white walls, you can still benefit from a splash of color—simply choose fun hues for your practical stuff, like pillows, placemats, towels, or upholstery.

a(Photo via Apartment Therapy)

6. Choose vintage or recycled materials. Not only are upcycled items more eco-friendly; there’s just something infinitely more charming about stuff with a patina or history.

7. Use glass jars. Longtime readers know I’m a big fan of mason jars. Maybe it’s just me, but I think some of the consumable stuff in our homes—spices, beans, coffee, pasta, cotton balls, bath salts—are pretty enough to serve as décor.

8. Use personal items. Stuff with meaning—like personal photos, artwork, or travel souvenirs—are so much more interesting than store-bought décor. The key is editing: highlight just a few important pieces, to give them the spotlight they deserve.

Remember: adding warmth isn’t about adding stuff. An empty room with weathered wood floors and a single vase of flowers can be absolutely delightful. Rather, it’s about choosing our stuff with care, so that our homes are welcoming havens for our families, our guests, and ourselves. When you come home at the end of a long day, your space should always make you smile. :)

{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 Workhorse: Mason Jars

Those who’ve read my book know I’m a huge fan of versatile items – from both a minimalist and ecological standpoint, I think it’s better to own one multi-functional item than several single-function ones. In my opinion, the more uses something has, the more worthy a place in our households.

When it comes to multi-functional items, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better workhorse than the humble mason jar. Besides their obvious use for canning and storing food, they can fill myriad other roles in our homes: from serving as lanterns, to drinkware, to impromptu piggy banks.

The best part: they can do double-duty as both storage and décor. Instead of buying mass-produced tchotchkes, consider “decorating” your home with the stuff of your everyday life. It’s elegant, inexpensive, and makes you truly mindful of what you own.

Consider the following ways to put mason jars to work in your home:

1. Kitchen storage/décor. Displaying dry foods in glass jars – like pasta, beans, coffee, and spices – are a wonderful way to add warmth to your minimalist kitchen.

2. Bathroom storage/décor. Use them to hold cotton balls, q-tips, or bath salts for a serene, spa-like look.

3. Laundry room. Powdered detergent is prettier in a glass jar than commercial packaging. (Make your own, so you can skip the packaging altogether!)

4. Vase. A mason jar makes a lovely, simple vase for a single bloom or small bunch of flowers.

5. Lanterns. I love the look of white candles or tea lights in glass jars – so beautiful!

6. Office supplies. Use them to corral all those loose paperclips, rubberbands, or pencils.

7. Paint. A great way to store your paint so you can actually see the color.

8. Hardware. Fill them with screws, nails, bolts, and all those other bits and bobs on your workbench.

9. Drinkware. Nothing says summer like a mint julep or iced tea served in a mason jar.

10. Terrarium. For some low-maintenance greenery, make a terrarium: all you need is potting soil, pea gravel, activated charcoal, and some moisture-loving plants.

11. Piggy bank. There’s something very satisfying about seeing all that spare change accumulate.

12. Craft supplies. Beads, buttons, and embroidery floss are gorgeous in their own right – and make more interesting décor than mass-produced trinkets.

13. Natural décor. Glass jars of sand, stones, seashells, and other natural treasures lend a nice organic touch to any room.

14. Gifts. Homemade mixes in mason jars make wonderful gifts. Layer the dry ingredients for a decadent treat – like hot cocoa, or chocolate chip cookies – and attach a label with the recipe.

Do you have any other ideas for using mason jars? Please share them with us in the Comments!

{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.}

Radical Downsizing

tinykitchen2-sA little over a year ago, my husband and I were living in a 1000-square-foot, 3-bedroom house with a 2-car garage and postage stamp backyard.

Now we’re living in a 390-square-foot, 1-bedroom apartment.

I have to admit: I loved the idea of such a radical downsizing, but wasn’t quite sure how it’d work out in practice. But you know what? So far, we’re functioning perfectly well in about one-third of our former space.

Here are the differences between our former (larger) house and current (tiny) flat:

Former house: 3 bedrooms
Tiny flat: 1 bedroom
Thoughts: Having three bedrooms was a lot of wasted space for us. We turned two of them into offices; however, I rarely used mine, preferring to work (on my laptop) in the living room instead. We’ve found one bedroom to be adequate for our current needs, but may opt for two in the future (the extra could serve as an office/guest room/flex space).

Former house: large, eat-in kitchen
Tiny flat: compact kitchen in corner of living room
Thoughts: I love having an open-plan kitchen, and the lack of space has been a great disincentive to accumulating excess culinary gadgets and appliances.

Former house: full-size refrigerator
Tiny flat: small, dorm-size refrigerator
Thoughts: When we first moved in, I thought the tiny fridge would be a problem – but surprisingly, it hasn’t been an issue at all. We’re a five-minute walk from the grocery store, and have found we prefer spontaneous meal-planning to bulk-buying or stocking up.

Former house: laundry room
Tiny flat: small washer/dryer combo in kitchen cupboard
Thoughts: If the unit worked well, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, it’s a temperamental bugger, and I often resort to hand-washing and air-drying rather than fight with it. I really don’t mind, though – there’s a certain simplicity and mindfulness to it.

Former house: two-car garage, two cars
Tiny flat: no parking space, no car
Thoughts: My husband commutes to work by rail and foot, and we take the train or bus on our weekend jaunts. We heart public transit!

Former house: front and back yards, garden
Tiny flat: public parks, pot of herbs on the windowsill
Thoughts: We miss having a garden (but not mowing the lawn!). For now, we’re content with growing some herbs and frequenting farmers’ markets – but in the future, it would be nice to have a small plot of land.

Former house: basement full of equipment and tools
Tiny flat: shoebox with a handful of small tools (hammer, screwdriver, etc.)
Thoughts: Since we’re living in a rental, we’re not responsible for maintenance and repairs; after owning an old house, that’s been quite a relief!

Former house: two offices
Tiny flat: ziplock bag of supplies in a kitchen drawer
Thoughts: Most of our work is done digitally, so we really don’t need a roomful (or two) of office equipment and supplies. A few envelopes, paperclips, pens, pencils, tape, etc. have been enough.

Former house: two bookshelves full of books
Tiny flat: a handful of books
Thoughts: Ebooks are my minimalist dream come true. If I can’t get something from the library, I purchase the Kindle version. Since another overseas move is likely in our future, I’m determined not to accumulate physical books.

Former house: TV
Tiny flat: no TV
Thoughts: If you own a TV in the UK, you must pay a yearly TV tax. We decided to skip the expense of the TV, cable, and tax by forgoing it altogether. We occasionally watch shows or movies on our laptops (via iTunes).

Former house: attic
Tiny flat: no storage
Thoughts: As I say in my book, stuff expands to fill the space available. Having less storage space makes it much easier to be a minimalist!

Former house: 21 normal-sized windows
Tiny flat: 4 enormous windows
Thoughts: 17 less windows to clean!

Former house: doing repairs and maintenance on the weekends
Tiny flat: traveling and hiking on the weekends
Thoughts: :-)

Overall, I’m really enjoying our tiny-living experience. It’s fascinating to see “how low we can go” and still meet our needs – without many of the things we once considered necessities.

In our consumer society, downsizing is often associated with deprivation. Our experience, however, has been the opposite: living with less has given us an incredible sense of freedom, happiness, and spontaneity.

Have you ever done a radical downsizing (or do you dream of it)? If so, tell us about it in the Comments!

{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.}

My Minimalist Workspace

Today I thought I’d give you a peek at my minimalist workspace – in case you’ve ever wondered, this is where the magic happens. :)

From the time I was a child, I’ve never been a fan of desks. When I was young, I used to spread my homework out on the floor; somehow it felt more expansive, more conducive to creative thought. I was always slightly uncomfortable in schools and offices, where I had to conform to a more proper workspace.

When I moved into my new flat, I was thrilled to see the deep, low windowsills – a perfect minimalist office! I love the natural light, and the ability to “people watch” on the street below. And sitting on my cushion puts me into a calm, peaceful mood – helping me achieve a yoga-like mindfulness while I work.

You’ll notice that I don’t have the usual desk accoutrements in my workspace – partly because it doubles as my living room windowsill, and partly because I don’t require much more than my laptop. I do almost all of my work digitally, so really don’t need pens, paperclips, or a stapler standing by. I keep a tiny stash of office supplies in a kitchen drawer, and a folder of essential paperwork in my wardrobe.

I know this setup won’t work for most people, and am certainly not suggesting you adopt it – just giving you a little glimpse into my world, and what works for me!

Miss Minimalist's Workspace

Miss Minimalist's Workspace

{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.}

Minimalist Makeover: Barry’s Bookshelf

When it comes to downsizing our possessions, some things are easy — like knickknacks we don’t like, dinnerware we don’t need, or clothes that don’t fit. Others, however, present more of a challenge; and I don’t think I’m the only one who puts books near the top of that list.

Therefore, I was excited to hear from Barry, who recently decluttered his bookshelf. He kindly agreed to share his “before” and “after” photos with us:

Barry's bookshelf

Barry's bookshelf

Here’s what he wrote about his experience:

As a book lover and a graduate of medical school some years back, I’ve carted half a ton of books around wherever I’ve lived. About a year ago I began reading Leo Babauta’s works on simplicity and minimalism and have made significant progress in shedding nonessentials including some of my books. (I have a post about Breaking Up With Your Books that was inspired by a friend’s similar predicament with book clutter.)

Five years ago after becoming a single parent, I downsized into a small beach house here in California and the one bookcase I kept was still crammed full and became a catchall for odds and ends. It really started to get to me so the first step was to color code the books. Some of my friends asked me how I’d ever find anything with the books arranged this way, but I responded…’Since I read them all I think I know my books!’ Finding the book you want is never an issue if you’ve read it. :)

The second step was shed more volumes and in the process make my bookshelf a bit more appealing and minimalist in nature. I bought an Amazon Kindle and, except as gifts for others, I haven’t been able to buy a print book since. Now, like my music, I buy my books in digital format. I guess that means my library won’t be expanding either.

How inspiring! I love how Barry realized that arranging his books wasn’t the solution, and instead narrowed down his collection dramatically. By keeping only the volumes most important to him, he’s created a wonderful, streamlined library that perfectly fits his needs.

Furthermore, he’s maintaining his minimal library by purchasing new books in digital format. I’m using the same strategy, and dream of the day when every book ever published is available electronically!

Big thanks to Barry for sharing this with us! Please check out his blog, 4 Plates, 4 Cups, 4 Bowls ~ Tips for a Simpler, More Meaningful Life, to read more about his minimalist journey.

Do you have a minimalist makeover to share? If so, please email me your “before” and “after” pics, and a few words about your inspiration, motivation, or techniques:

ct09 AT missminimalist.com (remove the spaces and replace the AT with @, of course!)

{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.}

My Tiny Apartment Tour: Minimalist Bedroom

After last week’s post (400 Square Feet is the New Black), I received quite a number of emails and comments requesting more photos of our tiny apartment.

Today, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak into the bedroom. I feel a little shy inviting thousands of people into this space, but what the heck – here goes.

To be honest, there’s really not much to see. It measures only 9.75 x 9.25 feet, for a grand total of 91 square feet. Suffice it to say, photographing it was somewhat of a challenge!

Tiny minimalist bedroom

Tiny minimalist bedroom

A few notes:

* I know a mattress on the floor is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for us. It also makes the high ceilings seem even higher. :-)

* We have no built-in closets, so all our clothes are in these two wardrobes (mine on the left, DH’s on the right). Above each wardrobe, we’ve corralled out-of-season items (sweaters, scarves, gloves) and other extras in white nylon Ikea storage cubes. I like the way they blend into the wardrobes and the walls, and give us a little extra storage space.

* I’m not a huge fan of the carpeting, but when you’re in rented accommodations, you learn to live with less-than-ideal finishes. If it were our own place, I’d choose either dark, wide-plank, weathered wooden floors, or white painted wooden floors.

* Yes, there’s a distinct lack of color here; but as most long-term readers know, I *love* white (see my posts Minimalist Home: White Walls and Minimalist Design: White Floors). I particularly like white linens in the summer – so cool, crisp, and refreshing! I’m considering adding a pop of color with a throw pillow; perhaps something in aqua or lavender, with a botanical print. Of course, I welcome suggestions from more décor-savvy readers.

* This bedroom was made for a minimalist – there’s not enough room for a dresser, nightstand, or any other piece of furniture. I love the way it requires one to boil things down to the essentials: a place to sleep, and a place to store clothes.

As I say in my book, I think the bedroom should be the most uncluttered room in the house. It should be a place of peace and serenity, a haven from our hectic lives. But it doesn’t have to be BIG to serve these needs. By keeping things simple, a small space can provide just as wonderful an oasis for our weary souls!

{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.}

400 Square Feet is the New Black

Last week, I wrote about my Housing Crisis – at the time of the post, my husband and I had four days to vacate our flat and no prospect of new accommodations.

Well, today I have some good news to report: I’m writing this post from our new apartment! With only hours to spare, we found a place, passed the reference check, and signed a lease. I still can’t believe that everything fell into place at the last minute.

What’s even more exciting: our new place will inspire us to continue to live minimally, and provide me with plenty of blog material. Why? It’s less than 400 square feet (390 to be exact).

In one year then, we’ve downsized from a 1000-square-foot 3-bedroom house, to an 800-square-foot 2-bedroom flat, to our current 390-square-foot 1-bedroom flat. Woo-hoo! I’m excited to explore the challenges of living in such a small space.

The wonderful thing is, it doesn’t feel small; in fact, it feels more spacious than some of the larger flats we looked at. The reason: it has white walls, ceilings over 10 feet tall, and enormous windows that take up the entire front wall of the flat. It’s amazing what a difference these features can make – the whole place seems so light and airy.

Here’s a few pics (one of the front windows, one of the open-plan kitchen in the corner of the living room):

newflat

Some of the challenges we’ll be facing (and I’ll certainly be writing about):

* the complete lack of storage space. This flat was a conversion, and has no built-in closets. We will have to fit all our stuff into three small wardrobes (I’ll take one, DH will take one, and the third will hold coats, shoes, tools, paperwork, luggage, iron, and all those miscellaneous household supplies that have to go somewhere).

* the tiny refrigerator. Having a small, dorm-sized fridge (with an itsy-bitsy freezer) will be wonderful inspiration to shop often and cook fresh. I plan to write more about our simple, healthy meals in the future.

* no parking. Last year, DH needed the car for work, and we found it convenient for exploring the English countryside. Since this flat does not include parking, we’re ready to go car-free! DH will commute by rail and foot (2 miles walking each day), and we’ll be relying on trains and buses to get out of the city and go on our weekend hikes.

So what’s the meaning of the title, “400 square feet is the new black”? Well, my good friend Tammy Strobel (Rowdy Kittens), her husband, and their 400-square-foot apartment were featured this week in a wonderful New York Times article on living a happy life with less. I’m thrilled to join the ranks of such inspiring, small-space dwellers, and hope to see a trend develop for mindful, “right-sized” living.

My husband and I haven’t lived in this small of a space since college, and we’re excited to come full circle (we always felt the 1000-square-foot house was much too big for us). Fortunately, our lack of stuff has enabled us to move into a lovely space in a great location (if we had more possessions, we’d probably still be looking).

I never expected to live in 400 square feet again, but I’m pretty confident we can make it work. How about you – how low could you go? Let me know in the Comments!