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.}

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!

Extreme Ways to Save

As many of you know, my first book (Frugillionaire: 500 Fabulous Ways to Live Richly and Save a Fortune) is about how to live (and love) a frugal lifestyle.

I enjoy talking about saving money just as much as minimalist living, and was thrilled when writer Melissa Neiman contacted me to request an interview.

The resulting article, 6 Extreme Ways To Save, is the top story on bankrate.com today. Please check it out, and learn how you can save $10,000 (or more) each year. After all, minimalism and frugality go hand in hand (the less stuff you buy, the more space and money you save!).

Many thanks to Melissa for including me in her fabulous article!

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide

Today I have some exciting news to share with you: my second book has been published!

It’s called The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life.

Here’s a look at the front and back covers:

jol-blogcovers

As most of you know, I started this blog after I moved to the UK—a relocation that involved selling most of my possessions, and starting my minimalist life anew.

Before that, however, I was in the same position as many of you: I had too much stuff, and wanted to pare down. My things weighed on me like hundreds of little anchors, draining me of my time, my money, and my energy.

So one day I made a decision: I stopped buying things, and started to declutter. And to my delight, what I’d expected to be a rather onerous task was absolutely exhilarating! I decluttered in the morning, in the evening, on the weekends, and in my dreams. When I wasn’t actually decluttering, I was planning what I could declutter next.

The entire process was an amazing time in my life: with each passing day, I felt a little bit lighter, a little more serene, a little more free. The less stuff I was burdened with, the more possibilities life seemed to hold.

I began to sing the praises of minimalist living to anyone who would listen, and was surprised at the positive response I received. I discovered that a great many people wanted to declutter their homes and simplify their lives—but for the most part, just didn’t know where to start.

That’s why I wrote The Joy of Less. The book is part philosophy, part pep talk, part practical advice—basically, everything you need to know to purge the clutter from your life.

Part One is all about inspiration. The quotes, stories, and exercises in this section help you develop a minimalist mindset—making it much easier to let your excess stuff go, and keep new stuff from coming in the door.

Part Two outlines the STREAMLINE method: ten sure-fire techniques to rid your house of clutter, and keep it that way. These steps are my “secret weapon” for achieving, and maintaining, a minimalist home—and I’m so thrilled to finally share them!

Part Three shows you how to give each room in your house a minimalist makeover. Each chapter tackles a different room: living room, bedroom, home office, kitchen/dining room, bathroom, and storage spaces (garage, attic, and basement). There’s also a whole chapter on creating a minimalist wardrobe, and another one dealing with gifts, heirlooms, and sentimental items.

Part Four takes this minimalist philosophy beyond the house. In this section, you’ll learn how to declutter your schedule, and reclaim your time as you did your space. You’ll also discover the far-reaching benefits of living lightly and gracefully on the Earth, and see how saving space in your closets can help save the planet.

Want a sneak peek? Click here to read the Table of Contents and the Introduction (or see the Contents below).

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jol-toc

I assure you that the book is not a collection of blog posts, but rather a comprehensive manual for minimalist living. The vast majority of material has not appeared on the blog, and will provide you with plenty of new reading on the subject!

I’d be so honored, and grateful, if any of you decide to purchase the book. If you’d like to do so, it’s available on Amazon.com:

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life

For those of you downsizing your book collections (or outside the US), it’s also available on Kindle:

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life (Kindle Edition)

You don’t need to own a Kindle reader; simply download the free software to your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry, etc.

Thank you so much for letting me share this with you today. I love to write, but I’m somewhat shy when it comes to selling and promoting my work.

However, I’m very excited about the book, as it sums up all of my thoughts, ideas, and experiences with minimalist living. Furthermore, I feel like you’re all my family—and thought that some of you might be upset if I didn’t tell you about it. :-)

I really appreciate your support of my blog, and hope you’ll read my book!

As most of you know, I started this blog after I moved to the UK—a relocation that involved selling most of my possessions, and starting my minimalist life anew.

Real Life Minimalists: Me

mm-photo[Earlier this year, I ran a series called Real Life Minimalists, in which I invited readers to submit their own stories. I’d love to revive it, and thought I’d start by jumping into the ring myself. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.]

When I started this blog, I had no idea what kind of response I’d receive (to be honest, I never expected more than a handful of people to read it!). I didn’t know if people would find my minimalism a little weird, somewhat wacky, or way off the deep end. Most of all, I didn’t know if there were any other kindred souls out there.

Therefore, I chose to remain anonymous. That way, I could write about how many shoes, towels, or paperclips I owned without having to answer for my “eccentricities” in real life. I could wax poetic about white walls, empty rooms, and naked windows without putting my name on these musings.

Along the way, however, I discovered that this is who I am. I’m the woman who sold all her possessions and moved to a foreign country. I’m the woman who owns four pieces of furniture, and eloped with her wedding dress in a ziplock. I’m the woman who travels the world with a tiny bag, loves living without a TV, and would like to eat every meal out of a single bowl.

And I’m proud to be her!

Therefore, I’ve decided to come out of anonymity: I’m Francine Jay, and I’m a minimalist.

I’m an American writer currently living in England. I published my first book, Frugillionaire: 500 Fabulous Ways to Live Richly and Save a Fortune, last summer.

mm-cover-frugillionaireSo what’s a minimalist doing writing about frugality? Actually, I’ve found that the two pursuits often go hand in hand.

The book isn’t about clipping coupons, or finding the lowest credit card rates; it’s about saving money by simplifying your life. My goal was to make saving easy and enjoyable, and explain how one could live a rich life by consuming less.

(Click here if you’d like a peek at the Table of Contents and Introduction.)

If you’re interested in reading it, you can pick it up on Amazon.com; for those of you downsizing your books, it’s also available on Kindle.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy traveling, doing yoga, reading philosophy, and rambling the English countryside. Although I’m a city girl at heart, I’ve recently become enamored with strolling through pastures of sheep and meadows of wildflowers.

My short term goals are to publish a second book, and make more of my own food from scratch (like bread, yogurt, and tofu). I’d also love to learn to snowboard, speak Japanese, and play pedal steel guitar.

My long term goals are to see as much of the world as possible, and make some kind of positive contribution to society (I’m not sure exactly how yet, but I’m working on it!).

By writing about minimalism, I hope to promote it as a lifestyle alternative. I want others who are dissatisfied with consumer culture to know they’re not alone. I think it would be wonderful—for ourselves, for the Earth, and its other inhabitants—if we all learned to live with a little bit less.

Well, I hope that takes a little of the mystery out of “Miss Minimalist.” You can still call me “Miss M” if you like, or Francine if you prefer. And now that you know who I am, stop and say “hi” if you see me on the streets of London… :-)

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed, or signing up to receive new articles by email.}

My Minimalist Wedding Dress

dress-cropI recently received an email from a reader named Elise, who wrote: “You mentioned that you are married. I’d love to know what you have done with your wedding dress and other keepsakes.”

Great question, Elise! After the big day, many women struggle with how to store the “dress of their dreams”—as well as all the other stuff they accumulated from the ceremony and celebration.

Fortunately, I was a minimalist before I got married—and knew I could never manage to drag around a big, bulky, and delicate garment for the rest of my life. My husband and I also wanted little to do with the usual marriage accoutrements (favors, invitations, albums, cake, presents, and the like.)

Therefore, instead of a traditional wedding, we eloped and got married in Iceland. Now, as many of you know, I’m an inveterate carry-on traveler—and I was not about to make an exception for this occasion (especially considering the dilemma I’d have if my luggage was lost!) Getting married abroad, therefore, presented a unique packing challenge: how to transport a dress, shoes, and other accessories in my carry-on bag.

An over-the-top, white satin “princess” dress, complete with veil and train, were obviously out of the question (and not really my style anyway). To top it off, I had little shopping time; we had only a month to do all the requisite paperwork, and get ourselves together, before departure. (As you may have surmised, my husband and I are pretty spontaneous and not particularly adept at long-term planning).

I had one requirement for a wedding dress: that it fit in a standard-size ziplock bag, for easy, no-worry transport. Fortunately, I found just such a garment: a cocktail-length lace dress in pale blue and gold (see photo above). It folded down to practically nothing, and the fabric showed no wrinkles. I accessorized it with a long white cardigan (it’s cold in Iceland!), and some kitten heels that were slim enough to fit in my toiletry bag.

After a short and sweet ceremony, we sent out postcards of Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland, and city in which we were married) to announce our wedded bliss. In lieu of a reception, we went for a nighttime dip in the Blue Lagoon. By keeping things simple, we deftly sidestepped the barrage of gifts that usually accompanies such an event: china, flatware, fondue sets, linens, small appliances, etc. (We already had a furnished household, and certainly didn’t need any more stuff!) Friends and family were content to treat us to dinner, and bottles of wine and champagne, after we returned home.

Therefore, the only “keepsake” we have to store is our marriage certificate. Our photos are all digital, and my dress is now part of my regular wardrobe. We have no “wedding china,” “wedding linens,” or other sentimental “wedding things” that we’ll feel obligated to keep for the rest of our lives.

My advice to single minimalists: if you take the plunge, keep it simple. Otherwise, you may accumulate a lifetime’s worth of stuff in just one day!

I’d love to hear how others have dealt with wedding dresses, gifts, and other keepsakes!

My Minimalist Story, Part 5: Starting Over

livingroom-m-500

A fresh start.

Don’t get me wrong, apartment hunting in a foreign country was an exciting experience—in fact, it’s something we’d always fantasized about on our travels. Unfortunately, however, it marked the end of our blissfully minimalist, hotel life.

It had been my long-time dream to live in hotels, with nothing more than a single suitcase; and I was fortunate enough to realize it, for six weeks, while we moved from the US to the UK (see My Minimalist Story, Part 3: My Life in a Duffel Bag).

For minimalists with deep pockets, it’s a great way to live. But for those of us with more limited budgets, it can’t go on forever. The weekly rate at our last hotel was just shy of what we’d pay for a month’s rent in an apartment.

Our challenge then, was to continue living as minimally as possible in a place of our own.

First, we had to decide whether to look for a furnished or unfurnished flat. We were surprised to find that furnished flats are more prevalent than unfurnished ones here in the UK (the opposite of our experience in the US). The concept was tempting: we’d have all the stuff we’d need, without actually having to own it.

The problem: our minimalist aesthetics. Most of the apartments seemed over-furnished, with more chairs, dressers, tables, etc. than we’d ever really need (or want). While such a life might technically be minimalist, it certainly wouldn’t look (or feel) that way.

Plus, we wanted to explore living life with just the bare minimum. Starting with an empty slate seemed necessary to truly determine the essentials.

So the day our lease started, we moved our duffel bags into our empty flat—and promptly realized we were going to need some of those things we’d taken for granted in the hotels! We made an emergency trip to Tesco (the UK equivalent of a Target or Walmart), and came back with towels, pillows, sheets, and a kettle—the very first possessions of our new life.

That night, we once again slept on the floor, just as we had the night before our closing. But this time, we were at the end of the ultra-minimalist part of our journey. From here on out, we’d be acquiring rather than purging, buying rather than selling, getting rather than giving. I dreaded the idea of having to re-purchase so many of the things we’d just gotten rid of.

At the same time, however, I was thrilled to have been given a “do-over.” I regarded this new beginning as a chance to determine, and acquire, only those things that met our needs—and nothing more. Finally, I had the opportunity to discover that elusive point of just enough.

My Minimalist Story, Part 4: Our Dirty Secret

From the time we decided to move overseas, my husband and I fantasized about owning nothing more than we could carry with us. We were determined to get rid of all of our possessions, and pare down our lives to a single suitcase each.

We almost achieved our goal. But in our final week of purging, we were weakened by the uncertainty of our plans. My husband had a job offer in the UK, but it was contingent upon us receiving our visas—which, given strict new immigration laws, was not guaranteed. (We did finally receive them, two weeks after moving out of our house.)

Furthermore, we had no idea how long we’d stay. What if we didn’t like England? What if my husband wasn’t happy with his job? What if he was transferred after 6 months or a year?

So that’s how we ended up with our dirty little secret: a 5 foot by 5 foot storage unit.

Though no bigger than a small closet, it may as well be an entire warehouse for the grief it causes me. Just the fact that it exists makes me feel like I’m not as minimalist as I could be.

The contents of that closet are things we deemed irreplaceable, or too expensive to re-purchase: an Eames chair, a Danish design sofa (now discontinued), a few boxes of books and paperwork, and a couple of items from our travels. We also included our bikes, since we had the space.

If we decide to stay in the UK, we’ll have them shipped over here. If we return to the US, we’ll bring them back into our lives. But for now they sit in limbo, things without a home.

The day we moved our stuff was the first time I’d ever been in a public storage building. What an eerie place! It was unnervingly quiet, with nothing but the sound of our footsteps echoing through the halls. Lights would turn on automatically as we approached each section, and go dark again after we passed by.

The hallways were completely empty, but we knew that behind the blank, uniform doors sat thousands upon thousands of things—silent, waiting, and in some cases, probably forgotten. The air was heavy with their presence. It reminded me of a jail—a prison for people’s stuff. I felt sorry for our things as we turned the key and locked them away.

We don’t speak of it very often, and the monthly charge is debited automatically from our bank account. It’s easy to pretend it doesn’t exist, but in the back of our minds, we know we’ll have to deal with the contents on our next trip back to the States—whether to dispose of them, or accept the expense of shipping them over.

So, the question is, how little must one have to be truly “minimalist?” Only what you can carry on your back? In your car? In a van? Should the items be such that you could dispose of them without regret each time you move? Should you have no attachment to individual things, no matter how irreplaceable or costly they may be? Or is there room for a few, well-loved pieces that follow (or wait for) you wherever you go?

These are the issues I’m considering now, as we “rebuild” our lives in the UK—because, above all, we don’t want to be burdened by another set of things when (and if) we decide to move on.

Left: a prison for possessions. Right: inside the cell.

Left: a prison for possessions. Right: inside the cell.

My Minimalist Story, Part 3: My Life in a Duffel Bag

duffelbag-mFor six weeks this summer, I lived my minimalist dream—residing in hotels, with all my possessions in a single duffel bag.

My husband and I purged almost all of our stuff, and sold our house at the end of July (see My Minimalist Story, Part 2: The Great Unraveling). However, we still had to wait several weeks for our visas to be processed before we could move to the UK. In the meantime, we “lived” in a series of hotels, as we wrapped up our old life and prepared for the new.

We each had pared down our things into one (large) duffel bag. Normally, we wouldn’t carry such unwieldy luggage, but it was the most cost-efficient way to transport our stuff across the ocean. The airline would carry our bags for free under our checked baggage allowance, whereas shipping the equivalent amount by post would have cost several hundred dollars.

[Now, I have to admit, I originally had packed a larger bag, in order to take full advantage of this free transport. The problem: I could barely lift it, let alone lug it any further than a few feet. It’s a humbling experience to have to physically carry everything you own; only then can you truly feel how much your belongings weigh on you. In the end, I had to purge some additional items, and trade down to a smaller, more manageable bag.]

In my bag, I’d arranged my possessions in packing cubes—one for pants, one for shirts, one for underwear, etc. I had an “office” cube that contained essential papers for work, our visas, and our move; a “kitchen” cube with my spork, titanium cup, tea bags, and power bars; and a “pharmacy” cube with toiletries, medicine, and other supplies. I arranged the packing cubes in stacks in my duffel bag, so that I could retrieve the appropriate one as easily as opening a drawer.

What a wonderful way to live! I had never before reached this level of organization—a place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s a principle I’d always tried to live by; but our house had too many nooks and crannies for things to hide. Some restless items always seemed to sneak out of their spots and roam around. Here, they stayed still by necessity—if they tried to make a break for it, they could very well be left behind. :-)

The afternoon of our closing, we moved into a highway EconoLodge. The tiny room was almost entirely bed, with only two feet on either side. Space was so tight, we had to stack our duffel bags on top of one another, just to leave a path to walk. It was certainly an abrupt change from the spacious, three bedroom house we had just left! But when you don’t have a lot of stuff, you don’t need a lot of space. We qualified for the hotel’s “long term” rate (7 days+), and actually got quite a kick out of imagining it our permanent residence.

It’s interesting how your perspective of “home” changes when you’re without one. We stayed in four different hotels during our transition, never remaining in any one longer than two weeks. And yet it was amazing how quickly we’d “settle in” to each new spot. Just a day or two after checking in, my husband and I would find ourselves saying things like “meet you at home later” or “are we staying home tonight?” Our home was simply wherever our stuff happened to be at the moment.

It made me think about our past apartments and houses—we’d never considered any of them permanent (even the one we’d just sold). In fact, prior to our previous house, we’d never lived anywhere longer than two years. In essence, they were all just temporary places where we’d kept our stuff, and met up at the end of the day. Places that provided shelter from the weather, and someplace safe to sleep at night. Was that the definition of home? And if you carried all your stuff with you, could you be at home anywhere?

After the Econolodge, we moved onto an Extended Stay efficiency, then flew to England, where we stayed in two more hotels while looking for a flat. I loved our mobility, and got a particular thrill every time we changed hotels. On the morning of checkout, we’d have everything packed and ready to go in a matter of minutes (versus the month it took us to move out of our house!). We never felt like we were stuck anywhere, and always had something “new” to look forward to.

At the airport, our luggage seemed equivalent to that of people going on a long holiday. Nobody would have guessed we were moving our worldly possessions across the globe—for all they knew, we were two tourists setting out on a nice vacation. Which, actually, is very much how we felt—because when you’re not loaded down with a houseful of stuff, life can feel like an extended vacation. :-)