No TV Update: Three Years and Counting

Three years ago, my husband and I gave up our television when we moved overseas. At the time, I had no idea how we’d feel about its absence, or whether or not we’d replace it upon our return. Well, I’m happy to report that we love being TV-free, and have no intention of obtaining another.

In fact, we recently traveled to Texas for a family wedding, and during the five days in our hotel suite never once turned on the TV (we didn’t even notice its presence until the third or fourth day!).

Here’s a quick rundown on how tuning out the tube has enhanced our lives:

More silence. Without the TV as background noise, our home is incredibly peaceful. It’s much easier (and more pleasant) to hear the little coos of my baby girl without headlines blaring from CNN (I’d like her to grow up without having to talk over the TV).

More serenity. Reduced exposure to news (particularly that of a violent or worrisome nature) and political ads has led to less stress and anxiety in our household. We stay informed via the Internet, reading only the stories in which we have interest.

More satisfaction. Since our house is commercial and celebrity-free, we’re not exposed to aspirational goods or lifestyles. We’re perfectly happy with what we have, and how we live, and never want for bigger/better/different/more.

More space. It’s been wonderful to not plan a living room around a television, or devise a way to mount, contain, hold, or hide such an (in my opinion) unattractive device.

More focus. Without the distraction of a TV, we can pursue hobbies, conversation, and playtime with our daughter while being fully present in the moment.

More holiday spirit. Back when we had a TV, the onslaught of commercials—whether they be hawking cashmere sweaters for Christmas or jewelry for Valentine’s Day—would make me tired of the upcoming holiday before it even arrived. Now that such advertising no longer enters our lives, we enjoy the season and celebrations so much more.

More time. According to this New York Times article, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week. 34 hours! (I had to triple-check that to make sure I read it right.) So by not owning a TV, we gain more than a day’s worth of extra time every week. :)

I think our no-TV experiment will become even more interesting as our daughter grows up. How will she fare without Sesame Street, Saturday morning cartoons, or Disney princesses? (I’d like to think just fine.) I envision for her a childhood of playing outside, chasing butterflies, drawing, reading, and creating—even if it means not understanding every pop culture reference made by her peers. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children under 2, so I don’t think our lack of Baby Einstein videos is doing her any disservice.

Of course, and as always, I must add the disclaimer that this is what works for us. By no means am I suggesting that everyone should give up their TVs, or that you can’t be a minimalist if you own one. It’s just another thing that our household is better off without—and I’ll continue to provide updates on our decision as the years go by.

{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.}

Wanting to Want

In my younger, more acquisitive years, I had a problem with “wanting to want.”

I subscribed to several magazines, and would page through them for ideas on new clothes to wear, new beauty treatments to try, and new things to decorate my home.

I received a mountain of catalogs each month, and would scour them for products I never knew I needed.

I would stop by the mall on my lunch hour and browse the racks, waiting for something to catch my eye.

The cycle went something like this: a particular gadget/outfit/book/decorative item/piece of jewelry would capture my imagination; I’d spend a few days or weeks wanting it; I’d acquire it; and then I’d look for something else to want.

Where did that leave me? With too much stuff and too little money. Not to mention a lot of time wasted that could have been spent on much more productive pursuits.

When I embraced a minimalist lifestyle, wanting to want was one of the first bad habits to go. I attribute this change in attitude to the decluttering process—after spending countless hours and much energy undoing my consumer decisions, I had no desire to start the cycle again. I canceled my magazine subscriptions, removed my name from all catalog mailing lists, and never set foot in a mall unless I absolutely had to.

When I stopped wanting to want, I experienced a wonderful feeling of lightness and freedom. The pressure to look for, research, desire, save for, and shop for new things was suddenly removed from my life. My stress decreased, my free time increased, and I became a happier person as a result.

In fact, after some time, I could once again look at magazines, catalogs, and stores—but with a completely different perspective:

“How many things are there which I do not want.” ~Socrates

I no longer saw a stuff-packed store as a treasure trove or minefield, but rather an unappealing (and sometimes overwhelming) place of excess and waste.

Such a change in thinking, of course, is easier said than done. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven society, wanting to want is almost ingrained into our psyche—and reinforced every day by the countless ads, commercials, and marketing messages we see. It seems like everyone wants us to want something, and will go to great lengths to spark that desire.

How do you resist it?

Ignore it. In the beginning, it’s easiest to simply tune out the ads, commercials, and other temptations—which may mean turning off your TV, giving up magazines, avoiding retail websites, and not shopping for entertainment.

Analyze it. Recognize the techniques that marketers use to get you to buy—like making you feel inadequate or insecure, and positioning their product as the cure-all for your problems. Once you understand their tactics, you’re much less likely to fall victim to them.

Subvert it. Here’s where my love of consumer disobedience comes in! Do like Socrates, and take pleasure in discovering all those things you don’t want. Stick it to the man, and keep your hard-earned dollars out of the hands of big corporations.

If you’d like to reduce your clutter, save more money, and gain the time and energy to pursue your dreams, the solution is simple: stop wanting to want. It’s a tiny piece of advice that’ll transform your life!

Have you ever found yourself “wanting to want”? Do you consider retail environments a temptation or a turn-off? Please share your thoughts in the Comments!

{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 Inspiration from Millionaires

A few days ago, a reader sent me a wonderful article from The Seattle Times: Young tech millionaires keeping 1-bedroom lifestyle. It focuses on some of Silicon Valley’s most successful young entrepreneurs, and how they’re rejecting traditional status symbols like mansions and luxury cars. Why? They find more value in funding startup ventures and social causes than engaging in conspicuous consumption.

For example: Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com, who sold his company in 2009 for $170 million. He lives in a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, and recently replaced his 1996 Ford Contour (with 150,000 miles) with a $29K Subaru Outback.

Another one: Joe Greenstein, cofounder of Flixster, which was purchased by Time Warner for $80 million. He’s happy living a “modest life” in his studio apartment.

The two founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, are also featured. According to his Facebook profile, Zuckerberg’s interests include “minimalism” and “eliminating desire.” Moskovitz has a similar philosophy:

“Things can’t bring you happiness,” Moskovitz said. “I have pictured myself owning expensive things and easily came to the conclusion that I would not have a materially more meaningful life because of them.”

What a refreshing alternative to the typical lifestyles of the rich and famous! I love the message these guys are sending: that wealth can be put to better use than big houses and fancy cars. And that just because you’re wealthy, doesn’t mean you must have those things.

When I first started this blog, I occasionally received emails and comments to the effect of, “I’m sorry, you must live that way because you’re really poor” or “I lived like that when I had no money, too”—as if someone with suitable finances would never choose to live without rooms full of furniture and giant screen TVs.

Similarly, when my husband and I first started living minimally, acquaintances didn’t know what to make of our lifestyle. While peers in our income bracket were buying McMansions, we bought a small, fixer-upper bungalow. While they were leasing luxury cars, we drove our old, high-mileage cars into the ground. While they were shopping for home theater systems, we chose to give up our cable.

Why didn’t we indulge in such things if we could afford them? We simply had different priorities. It’s not that we didn’t spend money—it’s just that we spent it on experiences (like travel) rather than stuff, or saved it for things that really mattered to us.

Which led to an interesting dichotomy: while some people were concerned about our financial well-being (“you’re welcome to the couch in our basement”), others suspected we’d had some sort of financial windfall. We’d hear, “Oh, it must be nice to be able to jet off to Europe!” or “I wish I could afford to quit my job and write all day.” Well, yes, you can do those things when you don’t have a $400K mortgage, a $50K car payment, and tens of thousands in credit card debt. ;-)

I’m certainly not saying that our choices are better than anyone else’s—they’re simply different. They’re what’s right for us, and what makes us happy.

And that’s why I love this article. These young millionaires are completely uprooting the notion of keeping up with the Joneses. They’re subverting the message that Madison Avenue has been sending us for decades: that success equates to status symbols and conspicuous consumption. They’re setting an example that you can want less, no matter what your net worth, and use your money in ways that are important to you (rather than as society expects).

So what does that mean to those of us many rungs below on the economic ladder? Use your resources in the ways you find fulfilling, no matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t hesitate to keep driving your old junker, and spend your paycheck on art classes instead. Feel free to put money into your kid’s college fund, rather than upgrade your living room furniture. Live your dream of travel, instead of taking on a big mortgage. Donate to your favorite charity, instead of splurging on the designer handbag all your friends have.

Bottom line: whether you have $10 or $10 million, there’s much more to life than things.

[Note: the one issue I have with this article is the quoted assertion that “being concerned with appearance, shopping for clothes and decorating your house are feminine values.” I think that’s an unfortunate stereotype we can do without.]

{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.}

One Less Thing: Microbeads

I love a good exfoliating scrub as much as the next gal—but did you know that every time you wash your face, you may be pouring plastic down the drain?

Yes, that innocent-looking cleanser may be hiding an environmental hazard—usually touted on the label as “microbeads” or “microspheres” or “microcrystals.” Whatever fancy name they’re given, they’re nothing more than tiny globules of plastic (polyethylene) that give an abrasive texture to soap. And once they’re done polishing our skin, they go right down the drain and into our waterways.

What’s so bad about that? Plenty, according to this article on Slate.com:

1. They’re so tiny, they slip through most sewage treatment systems.

2. They don’t break down. Most plastics don’t biodegrade—so when we use this stuff, we clutter our oceans with plastic that isn’t going away.

3. They attract other chemicals to their surface, thereby concentrating and transporting a variety of toxins.

4. They’re easily ingested by marine animals, harming sealife and potentially working their way up the food chain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t relish the thought of eating a fish that’s been feasting on microbeads.

I first read about this issue a few years ago, and thought for sure these products would soon be banned. To the contrary (and to my great dismay), I’ve seen more on the market than ever. The problem is that the plastic bits are so small, it’s hard for scientists to measure their effects—and therefore hard to persuade legislators to take action. I expected at least to see some public outrage; but given that they’re nearly invisible, I guess they don’t have the shock value of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Nevertheless, what we can’t see can certainly hurt us (as well as a plethora of other organisms). And environmental issues aside, rubbing plastic on my skin is just not altogether appealing. Therefore, microbeads are One Less Thing in my bathroom cabinet. There are plenty of alternative exfoliators on the market, using ground walnuts, seeds, salt, and other natural materials. Back in the day, I used to love The Body Shop’s Japanese Washing Grains (now discontinued); as soon as I’m settled, and own a coffee grinder, I intend to make my own from ground adzuki beans.

Being a minsumer means not only keeping clutter out of your home, but keeping junk out of the environment. So if you’re using any cleansers to slough away dead skin, peruse the ingredients list for polyethylene—maybe you too will decide it’s something you can do without. The best way to send a message to the manufacturers of these products: don’t buy them.

{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.}

The Year of the Butterfly

bluebutterfly-m125

.Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year, which according to their lunar calendar is the Year of the Rabbit.

Well, I’d like to propose a special New Year for us minimalists: let’s make this the Year of the Butterfly.

Why? Let me explain with an excerpt from my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide:

When we overconsume, we’re like bulls running through a china shop—leaving a destructive path of downed forests, dirty waterways, and overflowing landfills in our wake. In our quest for more goods and unfettered growth, we break the Earth’s fragile ecosystems, shatter the lives of indigenous peoples, and leave future generations to clean up the mess.

As minsumers, we want to do the opposite. Instead of being bulls, we strive to be butterflies—living as lightly, gracefully, and beautifully as possible. We want to flit through life with little baggage, unencumbered by excess stuff. We want to leave the Earth and its resources whole and intact, as if we alighted just for a moment and barely touched them.

The Earth has a finite number of resources for a growing number of people; and as more countries become industrialized, the greater the pressure on the system. When we act like bulls, we grab more than our fair share. We feel entitled to support our consumptive lifestyles at any cost, and worry little about the effects on the environment. We don’t give a second thought to what’s left over for others, or whether we’ll have enough land, food, water, and energy to go around. What’s worse: in a “growth at all costs” economy, such behavior becomes the norm. Imagine hundreds, thousands, even millions of bulls stomping through the world and stripping it bare of its bounty.

When we act like butterflies, on the other hand, we’re satisfied with the barest of essentials. We consume as little as possible, conscious of the fact that resources are limited. We celebrate the gifts of nature—a spring breeze, a clear stream, a fragrant flower—rather than trampling them. We’re aware that we’re stewards of the Earth, and have a responsibility to nourish and nurture it for future generations. We exist harmoniously with each other, and within the ecosystem.

With that in mind, here’s 10 ways we can live more like butterflies this year:

1. Buy less. Resolve to purchase only the essentials, and refrain from acquiring new clothes, décor, electronics, and other unnecessary items.

2. Be content with what you have. To a butterfly, more is only a burden.

3. Act gracefully. Do what you do, and say what you say, with poise and elegance. Brash language and aggressive attitudes just aren’t cool (or particularly pleasant).

4. Appreciate nature. Seek entertainment in parks and forests, instead of movie theaters and malls. Enjoy the latest blooms instead of the latest releases.

5. Eat fresh and light. Like a butterfly, get your nourishment from the natural world—chemical-, preservative-, and hormone-free. Consume only what’s enough, instead of indulging in excess.

6. Preserve the Earth’s resources. Be a minsumer, and consider the effect of every purchase on the environment. Buy used, buy local, and recycle whenever possible.

7. Inspire others with your actions. Instead of preaching, let the beauty of your ways be an example to others.

8. Lighten your burden. Donate your excess to others: Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and local thrift shops can help distribute your castoffs to those who need them most.

9. Live in the moment. A butterfly doesn’t pine for the past, or fret about the future; rather, every moment is its eternity.

10. Love unconditionally. Understand that you’re connected to every person, plant, and animal on this planet, and treat them all with love, kindness, and respect.

I’d love to hear your ideas for living lightly, gracefully, and beautifully this year. How will you make this the Year of the Butterfly?

The small butterfly

moves as though unburdened by

the world of desire

A Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience

I live a minimalist lifestyle for many reasons: for example, I love the freedom, the flexibility, and the financial benefits of not owning a lot of stuff.

But I must admit, it’s also a chance to indulge my inner rebel. I’ve been a straight-A student, model employee, and overall law-abiding citizen; yet when it comes to consumerism, I can’t resist my desire to stick it to the man. ;-)

When I see ads for luxury cars, designer handbags, trendy clothing, and electronic gadgets, I become more determined not to buy them. When I see promotions for loans, mortgages, and credit cards, I become more convinced to stay out of debt.

When politicians implore me to go shopping to “improve the economy,” I’m inspired to swap, borrow, and make do with what I have. When I hear that more stuff means more happiness, I become that much more passionate about living with less.

In short: the more I’m told to consume, the more enthusiastic I become not to.

I don’t know if my contrarian response is a minimalist thing, a frugality thing, or an environmental thing, but I do know this: the purchase of all this stuff is benefiting someone, but it’s certainly not us. And the last thing I’m going to do is trade my financial security, my precious space, and the planet’s resources for a pile of unnecessary material goods.

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience. The premise: people shouldn’t allow government to overrule their consciences. In our modern world, I think we can use a little consumer disobedience—to make sure banks, corporations, and other profiteering interests don’t do the same.

Are you with me? If so, here’s 14 acts of consumer disobedience for you to consider:

1. Pay with cash. Don’t give credit card companies another penny in finance charges – they grow richer at your expense. Save up for stuff instead of charging it; by the time you have the money, you may not even want it anymore!

2. Say no to logos. If a company wants you to be a walking advertisement, they should be paying you.

3. Be brand disloyal. Check out generic alternatives to name-brand goods; the products are often nearly identical.

4. Ignore trends. They’re just a clever ruse to get you to part with your hard-earned money. Don’t buy stuff that’ll be obsolete, outdated, or out-of-style in the blink of an eye.

5. Be a borrower. Whether it’s a book, a ladder, or a dress to wear to a special event, explore borrowing options before you buy. Check out the library, tool shares, car shares, toy shares, and other programs in your area.

6. Swap. Trading your old stuff with others is a great way to save space (one in, one out!) and money. If you can’t make a swap among friends and family, go online: sites like Swap.com, Paperbackswap, SwapStyle, and Zwaggle help you trade books, CDs, DVDs, video games, clothing, accessories, toys, and more.

7. Go on a spending fast. Select a specific time period—like a day, week, or month—and during this time, don’t buy anything but necessities (like basic food and toiletries). Find creative ways to meet your needs, and make do with the things you already have.

8. Have a gift-free holiday. Instead of exchanging store-bought goods, celebrate the holiday with gifts of service (like babysitting, tax help, or a massage), gifts of charity, or by simply spending time with loved ones.

9. Tune out the ads. The easiest way to stick it to the ad man is to stop listening to him. Cancel magazine subscriptions, turn off commercials (or ditch the TV altogether), and install an ad blocker in your browser.

10. Go car-free. If you can walk, bike, or take public transit where you need to go, consider going car-free. Then you can avoid the expense of gas, maintenance, parking, and insurance as well as a car payment.

11. Right-size your space. Live in the smallest space you need, not the largest you can afford. Not only will you save money on your rent or mortgage; you’ll have less incentive to buy stuff to fill it up!

12. Fix your stuff. Try to repair items before replacing them with something new. Darn your socks, mend your clothes, and take your lawnmower to the repair shop instead of running out for a replacement.

13. DIY. Grow your own veggies, make your own furniture, sew your own clothes, bake your own bread. Use your particular skills and talents to avoid buying mass-produced stuff.

14. Want less. Advertisers, marketers, and corporations will do everything in their power to make you want more. But to be richer, happier, and freer, all you need to do is want less.

If you’re tired of the clutter in your home, the finance charges on your credit card, the commercialization of your holidays, or the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, you don’t have to accept the status quo. Channel your inner rebel, and fight back.

Practice your own version of consumer disobedience, and let your conscience, compassion, and creativity—not corporations—shape your world.

Minimalist Living: Movement or Fad?

minimalistsearch

I was recently asked by a reporter whether I thought the current popularity of minimalist living was a passing fad, or a bona fide movement.

First of all, I’m thrilled that minimalist living is on the radar of mainstream media. I’ve been a minimalist for a long time, and I remember when my Google searches on the term turned up little more than references to modern architecture, John Cage’s music, and 1960s art. Today, the same search returns a treasure trove of websites, blogs, and discussions – and yes, some actual newspaper articles – on how to live a simpler life.

Years ago, when I told people I was a minimalist, they looked at me like I had two heads. Today, they invite me over to declutter their closets and basements.

My answer: I believe that minimalist living is an important new movement that will transform our lives, our society, and our planet.

As I see it, a movement involves the convergence of three factors: a precipitator, an enabler, and a means of communication. Here’s how they’re contributing to the rise of minimalist living:

Precipitator: the Recession. When the economy was booming, few stopped to question the status quo. Money was flowing, credit was easy, and we all went shopping. But when things turned south, all bets were off: many of us looked around at the stuff we’d bought, and realized what a deep hole we’d dug. We realized that trading our time, energy, and financial stability for a pile of possessions just wasn’t worth it. Plus, many of us had run out of space to put it all! And so began a massive re-evaluation of our consumption habits.

Now, I know a lot of minimalists (myself included) whose lifestyle choice had nothing to do with the recession. However, I do think the economic downturn gave minimalism more widespread appeal; when money is tight and jobs are scarce, living with less is a fantastic alternative to digging deeper into debt. Furthermore, staying in the job market often requires much more mobility these days, and it’s no picnic dragging around a lot of stuff.

Enabler: Technology. At the same time, digital technology has enabled us to turn more and more of our physical stuff into intangible bits and bytes. We no longer need to be saddled with CDs (or DVDs) and their cases, boxes of paperwork, or heavy loads of books. We can scan (or digitally save) our documents, and store scores of books, songs, and movies on our Kindles, iPods, and iPads. Of course, that also means less need for furnishings like bookshelves, file cabinets, and CD racks.

Means of Communication: the Internet. Corporations and big media have long dominated mass communication – and they used it to spread the message that more is better, and material accumulation is the measure of success. Now, with the proliferation of tweets, blogs, and discussion forums, we’re exposed to a lot more messages from “tiny” media – and a lot of these messages are saying “hey, ‘more is better’ didn’t work for me, but ‘less is more’ does!” Minimalism has gained a voice (make that thousands of voices), and we’ve only just begun discovering its joys and singing its praises.

So does the idea of minimalist living have staying power? I think it does. We’ll likely become more mobile as a society, and location-independent as a workforce (google “digital nomads”), and technology will only progress in reducing our dependence on physical stuff.

Will some people return to their old levels of consumption when the recession ends? Sure. But I think enough of us have discovered that we prefer living with less, and will continue to live a pared-down lifestyle by choice. Whatever our reasons for adopting a minimalist lifestyle in the first place, we’ve likely discovered some of its myriad benefits – like less stress, more freedom, and more time to spend with friends and family rather than fussing over stuff. Not to mention, it’s nice to know we’re contributing to a healthier planet; because the less we buy, the cleaner our air, the fuller our forests, and the emptier our landfills.

It’s pretty amazing, actually: if minimalist living is a movement, we have a unique opportunity to change the current paradigm – from one of overconsumption, to one of conservation and sustainability. We can be pioneers of social and economic change simply by consuming less.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you think minimalism is a temporary trend, or here to stay? Is it a short-term or long-term lifestyle choice for you? Let me know in the Comments!

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.}

Car Sharing 2.0

Most of you are familiar with the car share programs run by Zipcar, City CarShare, and the like: when you need a set of wheels, you go online, make a reservation, and pick up the car at its designated location.

Car2Go, a subsidiary of German automaker Daimler, has taken this concept one step further. They’re pioneering a program similar to bike sharing: members have access to any car in the network, without a reservation. Furthermore, the cars can be used for one-way trips, and left in any parking space free of charge (no need to return it to its original location).

In other words: if you walk out of the grocery store with too many bags to handle, you can jump in the nearest Car2Go, drive back to your home, and leave it in a public parking space out on your street (as long as it’s within the operating area).

My first thought: if you drove to the store, a restaurant, your friend’s house, etc., what would keep another member from taking the car while you’re inside and leaving you stranded? I found the answer on Car2Go’s website: you can use the key fob to indicate that you’re making an intermediate stop. This blocks the vehicle from being accessed by another party, and shows its “in use” status by a red blinking signal on the card reader.

The program is currently being tested in Austin, Texas, with a fleet of 200 Smart ForTwo cars. You can read more about it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

I think it’s a great way to practice minsumerism, and would love to see it rolled out to other cities in the near future!

{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.}