The Joy of Less – A New Era

I have some exciting news to share with you today!

As many of you know, I self-published my book, The Joy of Less. Back in the day, there wasn’t a lot of mainstream interest in minimalist living, and it was the most expedient way to get my book into your hands. Thank you for reading it, and spreading the word to your friends and families! We all know I’m not much of a marketer, and I’m eternally grateful to all of you for making it a success.

Self-publishing was a wonderful and empowering experience, save for one drawback: while you could buy The Joy of Less from Amazon, or check it out at your local library, it was never available in bookstores. I haven’t been able to reach those would-be minimalists browsing the local shelves for inspiration or decluttering tips. I haven’t been able to share the STREAMLINE method with them, or the lightness and freedom that comes with finding your “enough.” To a large portion of the book-reading public, The Joy of Less simply didn’t exist.

Well, that’s about to change! I’m partnering with Chronicle Books to release a revised edition of The Joy of Less this spring. We’ve been working hard over the last few months to streamline the text, add new content, and design a beautiful new volume that can stand proudly on bookstore shelves:

With my self-published book, I did the best I could with the resources I had—and it wasn’t too shabby. ;-) But goodness, I had no idea what a difference a professional editorial and design team makes! I’m beyond thrilled with the new edition—it really is so much better than I could do on my own.

Furthermore, my perspective has changed in the last few years. I’ve gone from being a carefree world-traveler to a homeowner and mother, and know first-hand the challenges of getting partners and children on board the decluttering bandwagon. I’ve written a brand-new chapter called The Clutter-Free Family, in which I outline an action plan that works for households of all sizes—in essence, a family-friendly power boost for the STREAMLINE techniques.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about working with a traditional publisher. Chronicle, however, is fun, edgy, and creative—definitely more indie than stodgy. What’s more, they’re truly passionate about the message of the book and have the resources to convey it far and wide. I think they’ll be the perfect partner in bringing minimalism to the masses.

And look at that beautiful cover they made! I liked the simplicity of my first one, but this cover just radiates joy. The vibrant yellow perfectly captures the sunlight that pours into your space, and soul, when you clear out the clutter. And see those dandelion seeds? They represent the exquisite lightness to be found in letting go.

Can you tell I’m excited? I honestly want to stand out on the sidewalk with a big stack of books and hand them out to passersby.

If my book is one of your Treasures (and I’m truly honored if it is), this volume is for you. It’s perfect for those who keep it on hand and reference or reread it from time to time: the advice is more streamlined and easier to follow, and the hardback format will better stand the test of time (my own paperback copy is a bit worse for wear at this point). If you want Just One copy, what to do with the old? Well, those rare first editions are fetching $24+ on Amazon now. ;)

So now for the hard part: the waiting! The book will be released on April 26—that’s nearly three months away (though it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s Books). I’m going to try to make the waiting easier by putting together some fun giveaways and other features in the meantime. I’m excited about introducing the book to a larger audience, but want you to have the first look and first copies. (In fact, I’m hoping to have some advance copies for early readers/reviewers—be sure to sign up for my email list to receive the announcements.)

More incredible news: the book will be translated into 17 (and counting) foreign languages. I’m in awe, and ever so grateful, to be able to spread our less-is-more philosophy worldwide. And for all those people who’ve requested it over the years: there’s finally going to be an audio book!

Again, I just want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart. This blog, and this book, would not exist without you. One by one, over the years, you stumbled onto my blog and were kind enough to stick around and chat. You shared your opinions in the Comments and sent me such lovely emails. You asked me to write a book, and when I did, you read it and told your friends about it. You spread the word so magnificently that a real publisher now wants to put it on real bookshelves in real bookstores. So with any luck, even more people will read it and fall in love with minimalist living.

I feel like The Joy of Less is our baby, all grown up now and ready to go out on her own. And I look forward to having you by my side as we send her off and welcome more people to the wonderful world of less!

Throwback Thursday: Just One

I’m keeping it short and sweet this week with a Throwback Thursday photo from my childhood:

Little Miss Minimalist says "Just One!"

Little Miss Minimalist says “Just One!”

See, even as a toddler I loved the concept of One. :)

I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been reading and enjoying all your Comments on my One Coat and One Shoe, and really appreciate your insights and suggestions. The feedback and discussion has been fascinating. I feel so lucky to have a great community with which to share ideas, as it’s not exactly a topic I can bring up at a dinner party or preschool play date. (Can you imagine opening a conversation with “Hey, I’m going to wear these same shoes every day for the next year…”?) Ha! So thank you for lending an ear and being my minimalist friends.

Anyway, I’m having a lot of fun with this series, and will be sharing some new Joy of One challenges with you in the upcoming weeks!


The Minimalist Guide to a Long Distance Move

Have I ever mentioned that I love to move? Crazy, I know—but ever since college I’ve barely been able to stay in one place for a year before I’m itching to pack up again. When I was tied to a certain location, I’d use architecture as an excuse—as in, let’s see what it’d be like to live in an old Victorian, or a high rise, or an industrial loft. Or I’d neighborhood-hop, so as to experience living in different parts of a city. But really, I just liked to move. :)

Many of you are familiar with the BIG moves of my recent past—over to London, and then back to the US a few years later. Well, I just did it again—this time from one coast of the US to the other. Having a 3-year-old made it a little more challenging…but you know what? It was still very doable, and dare I say, kind of fun. So I thought I’d share some survival techniques with anyone else considering such an endeavor.

1. Spend at least a moment considering the extreme: selling or otherwise disbursing of all your stuff and starting over.

A long-distance move can be expensive; not just $$ expensive, but $$$$$ expensive. If you’re not particularly attached to your stuff, or it’s not all that nice or valuable to begin with, give some serious thought to leaving it all behind. For the price of transporting it, you may be able to replace it with stuff you like better. This strategy can also generate a tremendous amount of goodwill amongst your family, friends, and neighbors. We have a friend who still thanks us for the iPod speakers we gave him before our overseas move.

We really wanted to do this, and even went so far as to itemize replacement costs. And if we didn’t have a child, we would have made it happen. But the cost and hassle (and in some cases, impossibility) of replacing her favorite books, toys, and other possessions outweighed the benefits. And after uprooting the poor girl from the only life she’d ever known, we felt that maintaining some familiarity would help ease the transition. She seemed genuinely surprised and delighted when we unpacked the same stuff—“that’s OUR couch!!!”—into our new apartment.

2. DIY to whatever extent possible.

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I feel that if I’ve accumulated stuff, it’s my responsibility to pack it up and schlep it around. (Call it my penance for possession, similar to why I use eBay.) I’m usually a proponent of rent-your-own-moving-truck—but outfitting one with a car seat for a 3000+ mile drive was not an option. Therefore, we opted for the next best alternative: a pack your own POD (portable on demand storage container), which we then had shipped across the country. Above all, avoid a full-service mover: not only is it pricey, but you won’t get the valuable, eye-opening, and yes, potentially uncomfortable experience of confronting and culling your own possessions.

3. Choose a transport vessel that is ridiculously small for your current amount of stuff.

This will vary according to your circumstances. If you’re single or a childfree couple, it might be your car or a small U-Haul trailer. If you’re a family moving from a 3+ bedroom house, think a POD the size of a walk-in closet. If you don’t panic and break out into a cold sweat at the sight of it, it’s probably too big. ;-) Think of it as packing for a trip, and your pod/trailer/moving truck is a big suitcase. Your goal is to pack light, and take only the essentials.

4. Halve your stuff.

If a die-hard minimalist family like us can find 50% of stuff to get rid of, so can you. It’s easiest if you group everything into categories: if you have 100 books, take only 50; if you have 10 shirts, take 5; if you have 8 pairs of shoes, take 4. The cool part is that you’ll end up with only your very favorite stuff—and you’ll have a wonderful excuse to get rid of the rest (especially those gifts, heirlooms, and ill-conceived purchases that can be so hard to declutter under normal circumstances).

5. Halve it again.

Yes, really. You’re in the groove now, so you might as well keep going—who knows when such an opportunity will come along again (and if you’ve chosen a small enough moving container, you won’t have much choice). This round will get you down to the minimalist Holy Grail, the glorious 20-25% of things you actually use.

6. Pack it up.

You’ve decluttered, and decluttered, and decluttered some more—yet some items will still have slipped through the cracks. It’s in the midst of packing that you will wonder why you have spent a small fortune on bubble paper to wrap a $6 set of Ikea glasses, or spent half a day finding a box to accommodate an odd-sized and seldom-used piece of hobby equipment. These are the enlightening moments that long-distance moves are made of—and another compelling reason to DIY.

7. Reconsider option #1.

Do you really want to drag all this stuff across the country?

8. Run out of time and/or packing materials.

My husband and I tend to be spontaneous, and only gave ourselves 3 weeks to orchestrate our latest move. But it doesn’t matter—we could have had 3 months (or 3 years, for that matter), and everything would still have come down to the wire. That’s when all those decluttering decisions you couldn’t make will be made for you—because in those final moments, the preservation of a cheese grater pales in comparison to getting the padlock on the POD before the truck arrives to collect it.

9. Question your sanity.

Everyone else will, so you may as well join in the fun. Particularly so if you are decamping with no job prospects, family, or housing at your destination, and with no more compelling reason to move than “walkability” or “weather.” It’s a herculean effort, and the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow may not be so obvious to the casual observer (or even, at times, to you).

10. Do it anyway.

Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

From the moment we landed here, I knew we were home. I have never been so enchanted with the place where I live. I’ve spent the last few weeks wandering the streets, starry-eyed and lovestruck, checking out the playground scene with Plumblossom, the food scene with my husband, and the housing scene with our realtor (yikes to the latter, and a good thing we saved some coin on the move!). Our apartment is temporary, and another short-distance move is in the future; but for the first time, I actually have the desire to put down some roots and stay awhile.

11. Enjoy a vacation from your stuff.

After endless deliberations, decisions, and debates over your stuff, you probably won’t want to see it again for awhile. Enjoy a blissful separation while you await your POD (or if you’re road-tripping, while it’s stashed in your moving truck). We flew to our destination and camped out in our empty apartment for a week, eating on a picnic blanket and sleeping on the floor; and I can honestly say that, after all that packing, I was so tired of our stuff they could have dropped our POD in the sea for all I was concerned.

12. Unpack and unwind.

Of course, the time will come when you have to deal with those boxes on the receiving end—but if you’ve followed the advice above, you’ll be unpacked in a matter of hours (instead of days, weeks, or even months!). The excess will have been culled, and you’ll actually need everything you’ve brought. You’ll feel light, liberated, and ready for a fresh start in your new location. The blood, sweat, and tears will all be worth it, and—as for that 75% you decluttered—I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t miss a thing.

Have you made a long-distance move (or do you fantasize about one)? Tell us your experiences 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.}

Furniture Update: A Couch and Table and Chairs, Oh My!

Two years ago, my family and I moved into a 3-bedroom, 1700-sq-ft house. It was a big change from the 390-sq-ft apartment we’d left behind in England—but just about the smallest home we could find within a short commute of my husband’s office.

Several readers have asked me how our larger space has affected our furniture needs. In particular, inquiring minds want to know: do we have more, less, the same, or different stuff than we had before?

The answer: a little bit more, but really just different.

Our house has an open floor plan—the kitchen, living room, and dining room are all in one big space. In that space, we have the following:

1. Couch
2. Dining table + chairs
3. Shelf for Plumblossom’s toys and books

In our former tiny apartment, we had two lounge chairs and a coffee table instead of a couch. The reason: we moved often, seldom entertained, and had no real need for a large and unwieldy piece of furniture (see my post, Questioning the Couch).

In our new digs, we did a 180 and replaced the two chairs (figuratively, not literally—they were left behind in England long ago) with a couch. Why? Because it better fits our new lifestyle.

First, we have a toddler who loves to climb. The couch provides a low, wide space for her acrobatics, without the tipping potential of chairs. Sure, IMO, cushions on the floor would be even better, but… Second, we entertain friends and family quite often; some are older, some are posher ;-), and most are generally not enthusiastic about sitting on the floor.

We made do for some time with the futon we had in storage (seen in Our Dirty Secret)—but the foam was disintegrating, the cover was threadbare, and the heavy metal folding mechanism proved too much of a hazard for my daughter’s curious little fingers. So we settled on the little number pictured below—which I’m happy to report disassembles and packs flat (!) in case we pull up stakes again.

We replaced our tiny-apartment coffee table with a dining table. This was a tough one for me—my husband and I haven’t owned one in 15 years, and loved the relaxed, bohemian ambience of eating at a low table. However, we now host dinners about twice a month, as well as holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and want our guests to be comfortable. I think it’s helped Plumblossom, too—since she’s accustomed to sitting at a proper table for meals, she’s remarkably well-behaved in restaurants and at dinner parties.

We did keep versatility in mind when selecting a table: it’s simply a birch slab with (detachable) metal legs. We can repurpose it as a desk, if need be—or replace the legs with shorter ones if we ever return to floor dining.

Finally, since our living room doubles as Plumblossom’s playroom, we acquired a long, low shelf for her books and toys. We’re trying our best to create a Montessori-style environment for her, which calls for a carefully-edited, nicely-arranged selection of materials (in contrast to a jumble of things in a toybox). I’ll write more about this (with pics) in a future post.

Wondering about the rugs? We have hardwood floors throughout our living space, and used FLOR tiles (20” carpet squares) to create area rugs. Plumblossom spends most of her time playing on the floor, and the tiles add a bit of softness and warmth underneath her. They also provide some noise-dampening—important in a small house, especially when the resident toddler has finally succumbed to sleep.

The random patchwork of tiles under the dining table was also a Plumblossom-centric decision. Babies and toddlers can be messy eaters—and while the tiles can be individually-removed and washed (yay!), we’ve had need to replace one or two. The patchwork allows us to do so without worrying about a color or pattern being discontinued (we simply pick a new one out of the sale section).

Another plus for carpet tiles: if/when we move, they can all be stacked into a pizza-sized box and easily transported. I know, I know, why all this talk about moving when we just bought a house? Because the wanderlust doesn’t go away just because you’ve stopped wandering.

So that’s two chairs replaced with one couch, and a coffee table replaced with a dining table. Not too bad. Do the four dining chairs and shelf tip us into slightly less minimal territory? If you practice minimalism by the numbers, I guess so. But if you prefer my kinder, gentler, lagom version of minimalism—where you own just enough to meet your needs and make you happy—then it’s all good. :)

Note: I’m really enjoying my new monthly posting schedule; while the weekly one was starting to feel like work, this is more like coffee with friends. I hope I’m not boring you with the mundane details of my life—while I love to read (and write) a good philosophical post, sometimes I think we bloggers need to show how we walk the walk. Do you have any requests or suggestions for future posts? Let me know 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.}

The Exquisite Lightness of Being

A few years ago, I was reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and came across the most beautiful phrase: “the traveler’s exquisite lightness of being.” It became a sort of personal mantra for me as I whittled down my possessions to a single bag, and traveled throughout Europe and Asia with nothing more than a large purse. I’d never felt so light, so liberated, so free. Read the entire post…

Clean Slate Part 3: A Place of Our Own

In my last two posts, I announced two big changes in my life: my return to the United States, and the arrival of a brand new minimalist (my little Plumblossom)!

Well, today it’s time for Big Surprise #3: my husband and I have bought a house.

When Plumblossom was born, we brought her home to our small, one bedroom, urban apartment. We had no immediate plans to move; after all, we reasoned, a tiny baby doesn’t take up much space. And on that count we were right: her crib fit into a cozy corner of our bedroom, and her wardrobe took up just a small sliver of my closet. I was ready to congratulate myself on smoothly inserting an infant into our tiny living arrangement.

What we realized: a tiny baby doesn’t take up much physical space. Auditory space, on the other hand, was a whole other matter! Our delicate flower has an impressive set of lungs, and no compunction about exercising them. Unfortunately, we were living in a high rise apartment building without soundproof walls. When she cried in the middle of the night, we always wondered if an eviction notice might be forthcoming (!).

Even before our little girl came along, my husband and I started contemplating a house purchase. For the past three years, we’ve been drifting: moving every few months between hotels, sublets, and various apartments. We really enjoyed this nomadic lifestyle…but the continual search for new digs eventually began to wear on us. We’d also grown tired of living with faulty appliances, maintenance men who popped in without notice, and all the other quirks of temporary accommodations.

But most of all, we wanted a little green space of our own. My husband and I have lived almost exclusively in urban areas since college, and always considered ourselves “city people.” But our time in England gave us a great love of the countryside, and made us yearn for some trees, some flowers, a small garden of herbs and vegetables. We wanted to be able to step outside to a quiet little oasis, to enjoy dining al fresco, and to someday watch our daughter toddle on the grass and pick wildflowers in the backyard.

We’d kept an eye on the local real estate market during my pregnancy, but never saw anything too compelling. The biggest challenge: finding a small house in our preferred area—close to my husband’s office, a charming downtown, and several beautiful parks. Such a lovely and convenient area means a high premium on land—so most of the housing stock is of the 3000+ square foot variety.

But one night at 3am, with Plumblossom in one hand and my laptop in the other, I struck gold while browsing the listings: a small, midcentury, 3 bedroom rancher on half an acre. It’s in an older neighborhood with wonderful character and mature trees—a little pocket of modesty in a rather posh area. We settled on in it thirty days later, and just recently moved in.

The house itself has an open floor plan, and lots of glass to the partially wooded backyard. We’ve already painted all the walls bright white, and love the light, airy effect. Right now, it’s a big empty space with a few pieces of furniture and a scattering of baby items. As you might guess, we have no interest in filling it up—plus, I think it’ll make a great open place for a toddler to play and run around. It also has a lovely deck, which is becoming our second living room as the days get warmer.

Although at 1700 square feet it’s considered a small house, it’s the largest space we’ve ever lived in. It may seem antithetical to the how-low-can-you-go, tiny living movement—but it’s the smallest we could find in the area (local ordinances ruled out building a tiny house), and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m an empty space junkie. :)

I look forward to sharing our new space with you as we get settled. However, home improvement moves at a snail’s pace with a new baby on board. And with spring rains and warm weather coming, we’re focusing what little time and energy we have on getting the garden planted and backyard in order. However, I’m really excited about tackling the interior—and in time, look forward to exploring with you the joys and challenges of keeping things minimal in our “larger” space.

{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.}

Clean Slate Part 2: Bundle of Joy

On the course of our minimalist journey, my husband and I had never seriously entertained the idea of having children. For a long time, we couldn’t imagine how an infant/toddler/adolescent/teenager could fit into the carefree, nomadic lifestyle we had created for ourselves.

But last year, after purging all the excess from our lives, something changed.

In my book, The Joy of Less, I liken minimalism to “emptying our cups”—not for the sake of being empty, but for discovering what’s truly special to us and making room for it.

Well, after my husband and I stripped everything to the bone—giving up our home, our possessions, the expectations of others—we discovered the potential of our “empty cup”: the capacity to love, care for, and share this amazing world with a child.

So today, I’m thrilled to share with you the biggest (and littlest) surprise of all… During my sabbatical, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl!

She’s such a sweetheart, and incredibly alert, active, and curious for her age. She has the most beautiful smile, and a wise, “old soul” expression in her eyes (I like to think that babies are born knowing all the mysteries of the universe, but just lack the communication skills to share them with us :) ).

I know in the blogging world, there’s an expectation that I’ll share the name, photos, and other details of my new bundle of joy. After all, I’m a very proud mama. However, my husband and I have decided to keep our child’s life private. It doesn’t seem right to me that in the United States, 92 percent of children have an online presence by the time they’re two years old. Bottom line, we don’t want to make our daughter “Googleable” before she has a say in the matter.

Therefore, I’m going to resist posting all those adorable baby pics, and use a handle instead of her real name when referring to her online. It didn’t take me long to come up with the perfect one: Plumblossom. Like her namesake flower, she’s tiny and delicate in appearance (weighing only 6 pounds at birth), but hardy enough to bloom in the darkest days of winter. The plum blossom is a symbol of hope, strength, and courage—bursting forth amongst snow and barren branches, an early sign of a much-anticipated spring.

To put it poetically (as I’m wont to do), my husband and I had decluttered our lives into a pure and serene winter landscape–into which our lovely little Plumblossom bloomed, filling the space we’d created with love, light, and happiness.

Has Plumblossom turned my minimalist life upside down? Absolutely. Although I’m striving to keep things under control, I now count a crib, infant swing, play mat, board books, rattles, and a plethora of other baby items among my possessions. I’ve let go of my need to have a pristine, uber-minimalist environment in order to meet her needs—but it’s all worth it, as her smiles and coos fill our home, and hearts, with more joy than I ever imagined.

Longtime readers need not worry: this won’t turn into a “mommy blog,” and my focus will remain on minimalist living—just now with a new perspective that’ll help me relate to even more of my readers. And I’ll try my best to write something intelligible, despite my state of sleep deprivation. It’s a very exciting time in my life, and I’m looking forward to discovering, and sharing with you, the joy of less family-style!

{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.}

Clean Slate Part 1: Homecoming

Hi everybody—I missed you all during my sabbatical! Oh boy, do we have a lot of catching up to do…

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile (or reading the archives), you know that in 2009 my husband and I sold our house, and almost everything we owned, to move overseas. The whole experience was like starting life anew with a clean slate. We traveled extensively, and lived a mainly nomadic life—moving every few months with all our possessions in our duffel bags.

Well, it’s time for a clean slate once again. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be filling you in on some big changes in my personal life (and revealing why I’ve been taking some time off). Today’s post is Big Surprise #1 of 3; stay tuned for the rest!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home—mainly because I’ve had so many in the past few years.

During my time abroad, I’ve lived in numerous flats, hotels, and sublets: some tiny, some large, some empty, some furnished top-to-bottom with other people’s stuff.

The experience has changed my perception of “home.” No longer is it linked with my ownership of property or possessions; it’s simply where I lay my head to rest each night.

Minimalism made this nomadic lifestyle possible, and enjoyable, for me. It gave me an incredible sense of freedom, enabling me to experience daily life in a foreign country, and extensive travel throughout Europe and Asia. In a sense, I felt that the world was my home.

But travel and temporary accommodations aside, my home has now changed in a significant way.

For the last few years, England was my home—and a beautiful one at that. I loved the energy of London, the beauty of the countryside, and every minute of my time there. My husband and I were embraced by the people we met, and enchanted with the places we visited. We felt so comfortable there, it was easy to forget that we were expats.

The only exception was when we traveled, and returned to England by air. We spent a lot of time in Heathrow airport, much of it in the passport control line. Because we were on visas, we were extensively questioned each time we landed. We were asked where we’d been, where we were living, and what we did to support ourselves. Our fingerprints were usually scanned as well, to make sure they matched the ones on record. I always felt there was the slightest chance they might not let us back in.

Well, I recently went through passport control once again—but this time in the US, as my husband’s job has returned us to the States. It was the first time I’d been back to America since we moved to the UK. Over on the baggage carousel waited my duffel bag with all my belongings—the same one I’d carried the opposite direction two years before. As I stood in line, I prepared myself, as always, to explain my qualifications to enter the country.

But this time things were different: when it was my turn, the agent didn’t ask me questions, fingerprint me, or give me a suspicious look. He simply stamped my passport, looked up at me, and said with a smile, “Welcome home.”

I’d love to know what “home” means to you—is it putting down roots, or simply where you are at the present moment? Has minimalism made you feel any differently about it? Please share your thoughts in the Comments. And once again, it’s great to “come home” to my blog and this wonderful community!

{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.}

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.


Drifter {definition}: a person who goes from place to place, job to job, etc., remaining in each for a short period.

Two years ago, when I moved to the UK, I thought it was pretty impressive that I lived out of a duffel bag for six weeks.

Ha! I’ve been doing it now for over three months.

My husband and I gave up our flat in February, and decided we didn’t want to commit to any long-term housing options. Therefore, we’ve been in and out of hotels, sublets, and extended stays ever since.

In two weeks, we’ll be moving into our fifth “home” in less than a year (“home” being somewhere we’ve stayed longer than a month).

Last summer, my home was an 800-square-foot two-bedroom flat. That’s where I started this blog, and wrote my book.

Last fall, my home was a 390-square-foot one-bedroom with high ceilings and enormous windows. That was my first taste of tiny living.

Earlier this year, my home was an extended stay studio with yellow walls, green carpeting, a red sofa, and a small kitchenette. That’s where I filed my tax return.

Right now, my home is a 1200-square-foot apartment in a grand old Victorian mansion. Architecturally, it’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever lived, but is filled top to bottom with someone else’s stuff. (I fantasize at least once a day about emptying it out and painting it white!) That’s where I’m writing this post.

Next month, my home will be a small one-bedroom in a converted warehouse, in close proximity to a lovely park.

I know it sounds like a royal pain to be always on the move, and hunting for new digs. Fortunately, though, we’ve been lucky enough to find nice accommodations; and moving day has been reduced to stuffing our bags in a cab and taking it across town. To be honest, this nomadic life has been quite easy and carefree—and dare I say, it’s begun to feel “normal.”

I remember when my husband and I bought our house back in 2003. It took about a month before it really felt comfortable to me, before I could walk around in the middle of the night without bumping into things.

Since then, my adjustment period has drastically decreased. Now it takes me all of a few hours, from the time I first plop down my duffel bag, to think of a new place as home—even if it’s furnished with stuff I’d never choose, or the closets are packed with someone else’s clothes.

I’ve become accustomed to (and quite fond of) the fact that the sum total of my possessions are in packing cubes in my duffel bag, a toiletry case in the bathroom, and a handful of cooking implements on the kitchen counter.

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to put my clothing in a closet, my books on a shelf, my spices in a drawer, or my lotions and potions in a medicine cabinet. It feels like ages since I’ve slept in my own bed, or received mail at a regular address. I’ve become adept at tracking things down on an as-needed basis: I’ve borrowed office supplies from hotel reception desks, cleaning supplies from housekeeping, and kitchen supplies from various landlords.

Furthermore, I now analyze the portability of every potential possession. I buy shampoo, laundry detergent, and olive oil in the smallest bottles possible. I calculate whether I have room in a packing cube for a new shirt or pair of socks. And yesterday, I passed on buying a bag of flour because I didn’t want the hassle of moving it in two weeks.

Most importantly, though, drifting from place to place has changed my way of thinking. Lately, I’ve been contemplating, do we ever really own anything? Whether it’s books, clothing, tchotchkes, cars, or even houses, things feel radically less permanent to me. In the grand scheme of things, it seems they’re all on temporary loan until we can’t (or don’t want to) use them anymore—at which point we pass them along, or they get passed along for us.

As such, I think material things deserve far less attention than we tend to give them. I’ve become more and more enamored with the notion of the itinerant monk, wandering with only what he can carry and meeting his needs on the go. Sure, I’ll never reach that level, but I like it all the same. :)

I’ve become acutely aware of how possessions can needlessly complicate things. If I were carting around a houseful of stuff, this past year would have been nothing short of a nightmare. However, it’s been just the opposite: minimalism has made this experience surprisingly pleasant and enjoyable. As someone who thrives on change, I love the novelty of trying out a variety of neighborhoods and living arrangements. I like the idea of not knowing where I’ll be three months down the road.

I can certainly see the value of having roots, a community, a permanent address. But given our current situation, it’s just not in the cards right now. We’ll likely be drifting for the foreseeable future, and to tell you the truth, I don’t mind a bit.

{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.}