The Modern Minimalist

April 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’ve been without a cell phone for so long now that I hardly remember what it was like to have one. I’ve enjoyed the cost savings, and have found that our circumstances really only require one cell phone for our whole family – and it doesn’t have to be mine.

The problem I’ve been having lately, strictly from a minimalist perspective, is that when we hit the road, trail or beach, we cart along all of these things: A photo camera, my Flip camera for videos, one or two birding guides, George’s cell phone, an iPod for music and a GPS for geocaching. Sometimes we forget one of these items, causing much stress and anguish. Other times the batteries die, causing anger, frustration and swearing.

The upshot is that I’m thinking that my modern mode of minimalism might make me a candidate for a smartphone. A smartphone would allow me to have all of these things in one compact unit.

I bristle at the idea of sending any more of my hard-earned dollars to the House of Jobs, and I reeeallly hate the idea of a monthly fee for the dubious privilege of having a phone that seems just so consumery. But I love the idea of having just the one thing. It seems more minimal than what I’m currently doing. In fact, when I was playing with George’s sister’s iPhone at the birthday dinner, taking photos, videos and getting names for the constellations (coolest thing ever!) on one screen, I found myself really liking it for its simplicity.

I also really like the idea of Instagram. That sounds like fun, and it could be good for the blog. Right now, uploading photos is such a chore that you’ve probably noticed that I stopped doing it altogether.

So what’s a modern minimalist to do? Succumb to the consumer trappings found in iPhones, Droids, Noids or whatever phones are out there? Or be the last remaining non-smartphone user on the planet?

I would tell you to call me with your answers, but, well, I don’t have a phone.




…And We’re Back

April 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I fully subscribe to the idea put forth in that Waylon Jennings lyric: “I’ve got the right to disappear.”

But I also have the right to come back. And here I am!

I took a little unannounced hiatus from blogging because, truly, I was just so very into living my life. My fortieth birthday has come and gone. Tax season left me a bit poorer but for the most part unscathed. Family visited. Some beloved people in my life have died, others have been born and one dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. I had some minor health issues that are very close to being resolved. There’s been a a boom in my freelance business.

But through it all, I have to report that it has been such a blessing to live in a clean and uncluttered space, to be able to eat the plant-based diet that keeps me healthy (although the birthday weekend did find me chowing on four lamb momos at the local Himalayan joint – savory!) and to have the free time to run, walk, hike, bird and cook.

When I first started exploring minimalism it felt a bit gimmicky. Let’s de-clutter the closet, let’s take our own packages to the grocery, let’s eliminate plastic bags, spend less, make our own food, grow our own food, cook our own food, eat our own food, etc. and so on…

But now that I have been on dedicated path for all this time, none of it feels affected or forced. I don’t think twice about sending unused items to Goodwill. But I do think five or six times about buying things! It’s become effortless — second nature even — to research products to make sure they are safe, non-toxic and as cruelty free (to animals and humans) as possible. Exercising, sharing a meal, reading a good book, feeding my backyard birds – all have become the most rewarding ways for me to spend my time that don’t tax my anxieties, my wallet or the planet.

Life happens whether or not we’re organized, centered and serene. And I am here to provide my testimony that when a simple, deliberate life becomes your top priority, all of the difficulties, changes and challenges become much easier to manage. Wanting less, spending less, owning less has given me more than I ever imagined possible.

Namaste, minimalists!

Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.

My De-Clutter Disaster

December 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Um, yeah. So when you’re de-cluttering it is important to make sure you don’t throw out a project your kid worked on for several hours and is due after the holiday break.

You see, our kids have never, ever had homework assigned over a holiday weekend. That’s why, when I did my clean sweep of my 10 year-old’s backpack over Thanksgiving break (while his dad took him to the movies), I tossed out a map of the United States that was meticulously labeled with the state names and capitals. I assumed it was a project he’d done in class, so into the bin it went!

I forgot all about it until yesterday when George returned from dropping the kids off at school and told me that our youngest had lost the school project that was due, and, boy, had he really lit into him. We’ve been having some issues with the kids not being organized and losing their stuff, so when he lost something yet again, George just went sort of nuts – the way a parent goes nuts when they’ve already gone nuts over the same topic 497 times.

Turns out that George had him complete the project early while I was out of the home on one of my jaunts to the corporate office. I had no idea that any of that had happened, which is why I assumed that it was an in-class project he had just brought home for us to see.

So poor little guy gets lambasted for being disorganized and it’s really my fault.

Cue the guilt.

George went in to talk to the teacher about what had happened, and it turns out that she extended the deadline to Friday anyway. Whew.

Fortunately this kid is pretty easygoing and he took it in stride. He just re-did it and handed it in this morning. It looked great. I still feel awful.

I have apologized profusely to both dad and son, and I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t throw other people’s stuff out without checking with them first. (Mostly.)

Have you had any de-cluttering mishaps?

Why I’m Still De-Cluttering

November 16, 2011 § 4 Comments

My latest stack. Books, games and an impossibly big bottle of wine.

On this journey to find calm in the chaos I’ve made some big moves. I can now officially claim that I eat a vegan diet. I have slashed my spending by epic proportions, and have bought down the principle on my mortgage enough to be able to re-finance to lower my monthly payment by $1600 – even though I’m technically underwater. My family has successfully survived with one car and one cell phone for four people. I hate how my hair looks, but I’m pretty ok with the fact that I have not colored it in 13 months. I actually turned down a freelance job earlier this year because it didn’t sound like fun.

But far and away, the most important thing I’ve done is de-clutter the spaces in my home.
Here’s why:
Clutter free spaces are easier to clean. I clean a lot. I like things to be tidy and organized. But before I launched my de-clutter campaign I was constantly moving all of my junk around, finding new homes for it, dusting it, etc. My need to clean became pretty overwhelming. Now I’ve learned that if it’s not there, I don’t have to clean it up. I can do a clean sweep of my entire house in about 20 minutes, and my Sunday deep clean takes only about three hours, down from at least six before the de-clutter. I can use that time for things that I really love doing rather than picking up mountains of toys, laundry and other junk.
It’s easier to find things. When you de-clutter down to the bare minimun of the things you actually use every day (or every week) you don’t have to dig through piles of stuff you never use to find what you’re looking for. My kitchen is so streamlined I know exactly where everything is at all times. Plus, I’ve eliminated certain daily frustrations like trying to find my keys.
A de-cluttered wardrobe eliminates the “what-am-I-going-to-wear” stress. I was once a bit of a clotheshorse, but I must admit that I love my smaller wardrobe. It is beyond my ability to explain how nice it is to walk into my clean closet and find exactly what I need to wear at any given moment. For example, I have one outfit that I wear to skate in now (I used to have maybe 15 or so things that I could mix and match to wear at the rink). On skate days I just grab the outfit put it on and go, whereas before I would spend several minutes trying to find just the perfect thing for that day’s mood.  I also find that I am only doing about one load of laundry for myself per week. One. Load. (!)
Clean pantries, cabinets and closets reduce anxiety. I used to visit sites like just to “oooh” and “aaah” over the perfectly designed, beautifully organized spaces. Now I just have to open my own linen closet and I am immediately soothed by what I see there – perfectly stacked towels, folded blankets and crisp sheets all it tidy little bundles. Sounds crazy, but it calms me right down.
De-cluttering allows others make use of the things I no longer want. I take care of my things, so when I donate games, books, toys and clothes to Goodwill I feel good knowing that some other family will get a great deal on something they will now be able to enjoy together, a working mom can find a well-priced, well-made suit for a job interview, or a thrifty teenager can get some great accessories for a Halloween costume (we had a lot of costumes…).  My unused things do more good out in the world than they do stuffed in the back of my closet.
And the most important reason I continue with my de-clutter crusade…
De-cluttering reinforces my desire to spend my money mindfully on things my family actually needs and uses – not a bunch of useless items to fill space. Everything I give away or toss out cost me money. I earned that money through the work that I do, which is the time in my life I give to someone else in return for payment. These items that I no longer need represent life energy that can be better spent elsewhere. Every de-cluttered item that goes into the box or bin is a reminder that I am not my stuff, and that my life is not about working to earn money to have more stuff. When I shop now I think of the hours I have spent de-cluttering. This encourages me to consider where this item will end up in six months, one year, two years. Is this item something beautiful enough or useful enough that I will want it in my life for a long time? Is it built well enough to last as long as I need it? How and where was it made? Is it a good value for the money? Is there a way to dispose of it or recycle it properly? If it passes these tests, then maybe I’ll think about buying it in 30 days or so.
De-cluttering has become more than just an organizational tool. Every time I de-clutter a space, it becomes a mini meditation on the things in my life that really matter. The ripple effects have changed my habits, my outlook and my purpose. And my closets look amazing.
What does de-cluttering do for you?

Ten Things I Would Have Done Differently

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Twenty years ago you could not have convinced me that a life of simplicity had anything going for it. I wanted stuff and lots of it. I wanted an important job, a big house and gobs of money. These were the trappings of a life well lived, I believed.

Funny how we use the word “trappings” in that connotation… It implies “accessories,” when in reality  ”trappings” are just that – a trap.

It’s overwhelming to me how much my perspective has changed. I now understand that, far from the freedoms my career promised me, I am actually a wage slave. I now realize that by signing up for a mortgage I am an indentured servant to the bank. And I also know that outsourcing my life to chefs, maids, repairmen and other so-called “experts” leaves me feeling inept and insecure rather than competent and independent.

If I had to go back and do it all again, here’s what I would do differently:

1)    I would know that I didn’t have to spend every penny I earned. I would have lived simply and saved 2/3 of my salary from the very beginning  – no matter how much I made – so that I could have enough savings to support myself.  This way I wouldn’t have so much anxiety around work, layoffs, promotions, etc. I would have made my work work for me, rather than be a slave to my jobs.

2)    I never would have signed up for a mortgage. I would have used my copious saving skills to stuff money in the mattress until I had enough to buy a house for cash. This would have required patience, but seeing how disciplined I am when I save money this would have been totally attainable for a 30 year-old me if I had done things differently.

3)    I would never have fallen into the trap of believing that I had to have the fanciest-most-expensive-everything in order for people to like me. In fact, I would have understood from the get-go that people mostly thought I was a shallow, frivolous person because of this belief.

4)    I would have spent less time shopping and more time hiking.

5)    I would have understood that it is best to buy once and forever, rather than throw out and replace poorly made items repeatedly.

6)    I would have been mindful of where and how the items I purchase are made.

7)    I would have spent more time learning about people rather than trying to impress them.

8)    I would have gone to a less expensive college and taken more time to finish. I attended an expensive private school and, although I had lots of help from my parents, I didn’t feel I could afford more than three years. I took extra classes and attended summer school so I could graduate early. I did work, but I spent all of my extra money on clothes and going out. I wish I had gone to a state school, worked full time and saved my money — and taken at least five years to finish. I started working “on my career” at age 21 and have not stopped. I’ll be 40 next year, and I feel like I missed out on some experiences because I’ve been building a totally unfulfilling career my entire adult life.

9)    I would have really edited my stuff before moving it all over the place. I’ve moved at least 12 times I can remember in the last 20 years and paid movers to schlep mountains of boxes with me. During my recent de-clutter I threw several unopened boxes in the trash and haven’t thought about what was in them once.

10)  I would have taken more yoga classes and tossed back fewer cocktails.

I’m proud of my progress (not perfection), and I’m on a path to the life I envision for myself. Every day, with the help of my family, I get closer to to freedom from my wage slavery, I embrace the little things that make my life richer, and I see even more ways to contribute positively to the people in my life and the planet. Now that I acknowledge what I could have done differently in the past, I can let it go and embrace better decisions in the future.

What have you learned by accepting your past?

I’m Going to Quit Blogging and Post This Once a Week for the Rest of My Life

October 11, 2011 § 2 Comments’s Graham Hill sums up the joys of living with less in this thought-provoking speech from the TED conference.





Confessions of a Type A Minimalist

October 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

My little family has done a spectacular job of joining me on this quest toward minimalism.  We’ve all gotten more organized, more streamlined and more frugal. We’ve set our sights on paying off our last remaining debt – the mortgage – and are marching toward that end with crazy resolve.
In fact, things are going so well that when our oldest has to linger a little longer at school because our one car is off running errands, he doesn’t complain. When George tackled his closet clutter he reduced his wardrobe to something like 20 items, and the kids have so few clothes they’re down to one load of laundry per week. Having one cell phone for both adults has turned out to be a problem exactly zero times. And everyone is enjoying our nightly mealtime adventure — so much so that many of the new vegan items I’ve introduced are now on heavy rotation.
But I have a few confessions to make about my own lapses. Although I present myself as a beacon of simple living, I actually have some clutter in my own figurative closet. Brace yourself for my confessions…

In the last six months I have lost TWO different credit cards. What makes it worse is that I still haven’t found them. I have no idea where they might be. I’ve stopped looking.

I do not have a reasonable way of organizing the addresses and phone numbers of friends or family. The last time I purchased an address book was about 15 years ago and all of that contact info is out of date. If I do have your physical address it’s because you sent me a letter with your return address on it and I stuffed it in a drawer. But I probably won’t be able to find it when I need it. If you’re not on Facebook, I might as well not even know you.

Speaking of Facebook, we should discuss my raging internet addiction. It feels like most of the free time I’ve gained by simplifying is spent on stumbleupon, lifehacker, treehugger and earlyretirementextreme. I should stop, but I don’t know how!

I also still can’t stop myself from buying SOMETHING every single time I’m in the bookstore. And I can’t stop myself from going in the bookstore either

On my quest for a more deliberate life, I should be partaking in activities that elevate my spirit and enrich my mind. I will start doing that right after this episode of Teen Mom. Oh yeah, you read that right. I watch Teen Mom. And Intervention. And Jersey Shore, bitches. I don’t watch any Real Housewives, but I would if I knew what time they were on. My reality show freak flag flies high.

I just took another freelance gig that will probably have me doing double time for the next year. It’s a sickness. People dangle work in front of me and I can’t find a good reason to say no, even if I know that it will impact all of the free and unfettered time I’ve worked so hard to create.

So if you’re like me and trying to simplify, de-clutter and live more frugally, but you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. It’s progress — not perfection — we’re after. So just sit back and relax. Look for your lost credit card later. Send that thank you note another time. I hear this episode of Teen Mom is a doozy.


August 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about wastefulness. In the government, something is defined as wasteful when it’s something your opponent wants. In the home, wastefulness can be defined as throwing perfectly good food away (or letting it rot rather than making a meal plan for it). It can also mean leaving the lights on when you’re not in the room, letting the water run while you’re brushing your teeth, or taking 30-minute showers. At school and work, wastefulness not only applies to money and resources, but also time. And in a consumer society, wastefulness could mean that you’re buying more stuff than you could possibly ever need or use.

When we shift our attention to creating a minimal lifestyle, it’s natural that we begin to take stock in our wasteful behaviors and patterns, and then begin to correct them.

The problem I’m having with this approach is that my Type A personality creates a tendency to punish myself when I don’t live up to my goals of eliminating wastefulness in every area of my life.

Recent example: Yesterday George volunteered to do the weekly shopping for me. I wrote the list and the meal plan for him, and one of the items we needed was a handful of Kalamata olives. When I do the shopping myself, I always take my own glass jar specifically for olives so that I don’t have to take the store’s plastic tub. I forgot to pack the jar for George, he came home with a plastic tub, and I nearly had an aneurysm. I felt like a failure. Seriously.

I realized that by creating a goal of “eliminating wastefulness” I have locked myself into a pattern of thinking that is deeply negative. “Eliminating” has a particularly menacing connotation. And “wastefulness” is just loaded with baggage, in my opinion.

I propose that we move away from this double whammy of negativity. Heretofore I will no longer “eliminate wastefulness.” From this moment forward, I “embrace wastelessness.”

“Wastelessness” is an idea that’s long overdue. Rather than chastising myself for a wasteful purchase after the fact (or beating myself up for wanting the wasteful item in the first place), I will instead ask myself if the item is wasteless before I purchase.  Or — even better — try to envision all of the creative uses for every aspect of the item, even the parts that are considered throw-aways.  I can make these decisions creatively, feeling empowered rather than punished. By discovering if a thing or activity is wasteless before we buy, use or participate, we immediately snap our thoughts to the often limitless creative uses for things (or time) and can make a more enlightened decision.

A wasteless way to view a bunch of carrots, for example, would be to see that you can make a delicious soup from the orange part, and a tasty pesto from the greens. Not a bit of the carrot is wasted (and it’s all in my belly.) A wasteless way to view a bulk-sized plastic bottle of vinegar is to use the vinegar to clean your home, then cut the bottle in half. Use the top part as a funnel. Use the bottom part as a scoop for the dog food. (These are both recent examples from my own home, although I must give credit to George for thinking up the funnel. I’ve used it, like, 100 times since he made it.)

Wasteless spending. Wasteless time management. Wasteless energy usage. Wasteless meal planning…. In what areas of your life can you embrace wastelessness?

Some Updates. Plus, Clutter Corner!

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Going to do a little blog housekeeping today, and update you on some of the insourcing and other projects that have been part of my Type A minimalist takeover.
I recently blogged about some projects that fall under the banner of “insourcing.” The upshot is that there are probably several things we each pay someone else to do, make or provide that are well within our capabilities to provide for ourselves. To prove a point (and save a little money) I recently made my own laundry detergent and toothpaste.
The laundry detergent project is working out incredibly well. Our clothes are clean and fresh, they smell great, my HE washer seems to do fine with it, and I have enough from my first batch to probably get me through the next six months. Highly Recommended.
My toothpaste was made out of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and a hearty dose of stevia (recipe below). It was very easy to make, and the ingredients cost about $15 total. I made about a cup of it at first, and my guess is I have enough ingredients to make toothpaste for the next several decades.
In the plus column, my teeth have never been whiter. Seriously. Ditch those Crest Whitestrips and do this for a week – but stay away from blacklights. I’m not kidding when I say my teeth are WHITE. In the minus column, the taste is just ok. Not awful. Not great. I do find that I don’t look forward to brushing my teeth as much, and using the concoction is a little drippy and messy. But overall it’s been good, and my mouth feels squeaky clean. Recommended.
I’ve been insourcing my own dog treats for a while now, too. Here’s the batch I cooked up yesterdy for my dog Dobby. He’s crazy about these homemade treats.

Dog treats made with leftover oatmeal, wheat flour and peanut butter.

I also have talked about my love of solid shampoos and the search for a solid conditioner.
I found a product made by Lush Cosmetics called Jungle. I love the way it smells, but as my hair gets longer, the solid conditioner just isn’t really working for me. I think if I had a short haircut it would be fine (would  I need conditioner at all, though, if it was really short?).  So I’m giving up on that for now, and instead opting for refilling my conditioner bottle with liquid conditioner in the bulk section at Whole Foods. Solid shampoo: Highly recommended. Solid conditioner: Not Recommended. Whole Foods bulk personal care products: Highly recommended.
In addition to my hair care project, I am still growing out my hair to its natural color. It feels a little drab, to be perfectly honest, but I’m ok with it. The ends are still a little blond, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s all just the real me.
And lastly, I mentioned a book I’m reading that I couldn’t wait to blog about. And then I didn’t blog about it. It’s called Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker. I will get to this, but I’m still a little blown away by it, and trying to piece together the best parts to share. One of the reasons I started on this minimalist path was because I wanted to create more free space in my life by working less and needing less. This book has everything (including equations and charts!) the minimalist needs to find a way to quit working so much. So in the meantime, please check it out.
And for the grand finale… Here’s a shot of my latest Goodwill batch. I had way too many socks…

Isn't it funny how you don't realize just how ugly all your crap is until it's in a pile headead to Goodwill?

And now here’s this:
Toothpaste recipe:
½ c baking soda
¼ c 3% hydrogen peroxide
Peppermint oil to taste
Stevia extract to taste
Mix it all together and store it in a jar. Give it a good shake before using.
What have you been up to lately?

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