Monday, October 17, 2016

Minimalism and privilege


Cait Flanders' post about minimalism being a privilege got me thinking so much today that I wanted to blog about it.

I completely agree that being able to intentionally declutter your stuff, simplify your life and commitments and so on is a privilege that not everyone has. If I need to replace something I've declutter, I can without any great hardship. Unfortunately not everyone can say the same.

There was a time in my life when, had you mentioned privilege to me, I would have immediately gotten defensive and explained how I worked hard, studied, made good, decisions, etc. to get where I am in life. And I did. But since then I have grown to recognize that other factors I had no control over also played a role. Where I grew up, the country of my birth, my family, and so on, helped put me on the path to success. While my family wasn't rich, I was never hungry or cold. I had everything I needed and most everything I wanted growing up. My parents valued education, working hard and getting good grades and taught me to do the same. There was never a question of if I was going to college, only where and what I wanted to study. Without that  upbringing and those expectations, would I still be where I am today? Without my mother's encouragement, and sometimes even well-timed threats, would I have finished college once homesickness sunk in or classes got hard? I don't know, but lucky for me, I didn't have to find out.

So there is absolutely privilege in choosing minimalism and we should all recognize that.

But the part of Cait's post that made me react the most was when she talks about questioning everything she's ever written and no longer wanting to write about "what items to declutter or her minimalist beauty routine." I too am turned off by the one-size-fits-all definition of minimalism, because there isn't one. What's just enough to me might be way too much for you.

But just because we don't all experience the same issues, or don't all have the same privileges, doesn't mean there isn't value in discussing your own experiences. There are a lot of privileged, overconsuming people out there and whatever makes each of us question our own choices is a good thing if you ask me. Maybe a post about decluttering will make someone donate some things that are just gathering dust, but that someone else could use. Or maybe reading about someone's simplified beauty routine will convince someone to stop buying products they don't really need, which will save some resources. Or hearing how someone cut expenses will help someone else do the same. And maybe that will lead to financial security, realizing you have more than enough and donating to others in need. Little steps can still snowball in the right direction.

I can summarize my definition of minimalism in two words: question everything. Experiment and re-examine what you do, buy, keep to make sure it's really important to you and adds value to your life. And then let go of the stuff that doesn't. It's not complicated, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. And share your experiences. Some of it may resonate and some may not, but I think there's more good than bad to be had by sharing and encouraging others to question things for themselves.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tech-yes or tech-no?


I got my first smart phone two years ago, but only because I inherited it. My ipod is a second generation ipod nano. So saying I'm a late adopter is a bit of an understatement.

So when I came home one day to see this ultra mod black circle hanging on the wall, the first thing out of my mouth was, "What IS that hideous thing?" That blob marring the 1940s charm of min hus is none other than the second gen Nest. So needless to say, my first impression wasn't overly positive, but bit by bit the Nest has grown on me.

The good

The best part about the Nest for me is being able to check the temperature on the go. Worried about forgetting to turn the thermostat up or down before you left the house? Wondering what bill-raising temperature your significant other has cranked the thermostat to this time? No worries, you can check and adjust it from anywhere with just an app and an Internet connection. And believe me I do.

I'm also a fan of charts so the history feature, which shows how much energy you've used on heating or cooling each day is super motivating. This one showing no usage for a solid week is my personal best and you can bet I want to keep that streak a rollin'.

The not-so-great

The self-learning feature of Nest is one of the most touted yet so far I haven't found it to be super effective. Somehow it seems to learn the temporary changes I don't want it to while not quite picking up on our usual schedule. However, the Nest is also super easy to program so making fixes is a snap. Plus, the fact that there's no limit of how many changes you can make per day makes the Nest heads and tails way more effective than your typical cheap programmable thermostat.

But does it save you money?

Money savings has been a little harder track. My power bills this summer have been running higher than last year, but so has the average temperature. I am a little skeptical of how much money the Nest could potentially save, especially given it's much higher price tag than the typical non-smart programmable thermostat. But I've stopped overriding the program like I used to with the old system and I certainly pay much more attention to how much energy the HVAC system uses than ever before since getting it. And maybe that's benefit enough, especially since the boy got a deal on the Nest

Do you have a smart thermostat and, if so, do you find them an effective energy-saving tool?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bathroom Redo


While I was away in Alaska for a wedding and vacation, the boyfriend tackled a full bathroom remodel in just one week. The fact that I had no idea any of this was happening was a sore point (to say the least) as it has become rather a bad habit of his to tackle renovations in secret while I'm away. But it was badly needed it and I wasn't sorry to miss all the mess, destruction and 99% of the work that went into it.

I've been planning to use most of these materials forever: subway tile in the shower, 1-inch white hex tiles on the floor and beadboard on the walls. All the essentials are new now, including the tub, sink and toilet.

I do love how it's turned out. After 10 years of dreaming about this it's still hard to believe it's real!


This floor is probably my favorite.





The shower wall tile goes all the way to the ceiling now, which I love.




He even built the medicine cabinet based on photos I saw online since nothing available would fit our oddly shaped opening. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Declutter Backslide


The house has been feeling very full, too full really, and as I looked around I mostly attributed it to the boy and home renovations. But looking in my stuffed cabinets and drawers over the weekend finally made me realize that I've been backsliding. Falling into old habits of stocking up during sales until I eventually end up with more than I can use in a reasonable time frame.

It started innocently enough. There were a few things I needed before heading to Alaska for a dual wedding/vacation trip: dresses for the wedding and rehearsal dinner, official hiking pants, natch (for all those hikes I don't do anywhere else but Alaska), some toiletries were looking low and heaven forbid I run out and pay Alaska prices! Plus my t-shirt collection was pretty thin, so I added four to it. I thought I needed a new parka, but the prices and lackluster selection made me decide I could live with my 16-year-old Columbia after all. Good thing, because in the end I didn't take or need it as Anchorage was experiencing record high temps this May.

Then I returned home to the middle of a total bathroom remodel (much more to come on that later!) which necessitated the purchase of some supplies, new accessories and the like.

Our last working smoke detector went on the blitz, so buying new ones became urgent. My hairdryer died. I needed body wash. Then Bath & Body Works was having a sale so of course I had to stock up on candles, body wash and plug-in air fresheners (my weaknesses).

When those latest purchases would barely fit in the cabinet at home I realized how much I had returned to old habits without even noticing and I didn't love the results. I'd be far too embarrassed to show you all the beauty products I have hidden away now! It's amazing how quickly and easily that can happen.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at hoarder status yet. Unless you opened cabinets and drawers you'd likely never know. But I know and I really have having to move stuff to get to other stuff.

So it's back to the old ways. Time to use it or lose it, to think before I buy and to get back to the happy medium of not too much that I prefer.

How do you combat falling back into old bad habits?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Evils of planned obsolescence

Of all of our consumerist, capitalist sins now wrecking havoc on the planet, planned obsolescence is possibly the worst. Or the most irritating at least.

Defined as designing a product with a purposefully limited useful life, planned obsolescence seems to be a hallmark of modern life.

Rather than frequently upgrade to the newest and best, I prefer to hold on to things. My car is 15 years old. My bedroom furniture was purchased when I was a teenager. Having older things doesn't feel like a hardship--I rarely crave the newest and best. Plus, keeping things for as long as possible is not only good for the planet, it's also great for your wallet.

When making a larger purchase, I take my time, do extensive research and buy carefully. It's a time-consuming process that I prefer to repeat as little as possible. This is especially true for electronics.

My mp3 player is an 8-year-old second generation iPod nano that only shows a white square on the screen. But it still works just fine and 95 percent of the time I use it in my car and control it via the stereo anyway. The living room TV is a hand-me-down from the boyfriend's last upgrade with some dead pixels at the top, but most of the time I forget they're even there.

My smartphone (my first and only that I was given last year) is a hand-me-down iPhone 5 that I'll use until it dies. I keep my computers until well-past using them becomes inconvenient.

But planned obsolescence makes it increasingly difficult to keep possessions for long, especially in the case of electronics. Apple seems to be especially bad at this with their frequent operating system updates that don't always work well on older devices. I experienced this recently when my Feedly app on my ipad mini updated to an iOS 9 compatible version that crashed immediately after launch. I'm still using iOS 7 because of reports that the new software renders older ipads so slow that they're virtually unusable. I tried all my usual tricks of rebooting the ipad, re-downloading the app, etc. to no avail.

In case you're thinking, so what, it's just one app, Feedly is a news aggregator that makes it quick and simple for me to read dozens of blogs and websites that I follow from multiple devices and the web. While not the only aggregator out there, for me it's by far the best and my most used app. And while it still worked on my phone and laptop, I prefer surfing on my ipad as it's far easier to read than my phone screen while still being much more comfortable to use than the laptop.

After two days of complaining about my Feedly-less life. my boyfriend suggested that I might just have to buy a new ipad mini so I can use my favorite apps since it's something I use so often and enjoy.

While he has a point on one hand, it seems almost criminal to have to spend $400 or more for a new device when the old one still functions perfectly well except for some software issues. The miser in me was very unpleased with this idea.

Luckily it didn't come to that as I was able to revert to an earlier version of the app using these instructions and all was well again. Although I know it's only a matter of time until more issues crop up.

What about you? Are you a serial upgrader who prefers the latest and greatest? Has planned obsolescence caused any issues for you?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Beauty product peekaboo


Because I love seeing what's lurking in other's homes so much, I thought it only fair that I join the product show and tell fun and let you see my stash. Trying to pack light for the Alaska trip opened my eyes to just how much stuff I use daily, while taking photos of everything proved that it's definitely time for another use it or lose it challenge.

Things start off pretty well in the medicine cabinet. It's mainly tooth care and the boy's contact supplies here. Side note: I still absolutely love the plastic top-shelf organizer (from Target). It keeps everything in its place or no more random falling objects.


Next up, my shower products. Believe it or not, this is less than I had been keeping in the shower. Two body washes (Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle is my fave. Still trying to use up the Yesto cucumber wash), shampoo, conditioner and Burt's Bees face wash (another fave). The boy has his own stash of products. It's just best if we don't share, even if it does mean twice the crap.


Extras: Face lotion and free conditioners that come with the hair color I use. I used to have twice as many of these, until I finally started using them as shaving cream. Very moisturizing and saves both waste and money.


Leaving the bathroom we head to the bedroom, where I do most of my primping (the trials of a one-bath home). Here we have deodorant, hair heat protector/frizz free spray (love), hair oil, lavender body lotion (love), perfume, night cream and day lotion with sunscreen (love). All are used daily.


Current-use makeup: 40 Carrots BB Cream, eyeshadow collections (3), bronzer, powder, concealer, lip gloss (love) and mascara. I've never been able to wear foundation well, it always cracked and looked terrible, but with uneven blotchy skin I longed for some coverage. I finally tried this 40 Carrots BB Cream and it's wonderful. Makes my skin look great with no caking or cracking, plus it's paraben free. But I bought it at a discount store and it seems to be discontinued. *Sniffle.


Backup makeup: The Physicians Formula CC cream, concealer and powder were purchased just before the Alaska trip because I feared I might run out of my current supply. You can see that I still haven't. Also eyeshadow and too many Burt's Bees lip glosses (like them, but don't use these daily).


Nail polish that I never use, but somehow can't toss. Now, brace yourselves for the extras from my shelf in the hallway closet.



From left: deodorant (2), hair cream (2), hair oil, sunscreen, face mask, mouthwash, body wash (2), shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, dry shampoo, hair heat protectant spray (2), foot lotion, curl spray, face lotion and body lotion. Many of these are items I either don't love, or have small amounts left that I haven't used, but can't throw out. Whittling these down to only what I love is my new goal.

Now take the amount above and double it to account for all the boy's stuff. Yikes.

That's a lot of stuff for someone who hates clutter, isn't it? What about you do you have just the right amount of products, too little or too much?


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The challenge of buying used

Even the idea of searching those racks make me anxious. [photo: gnosis / john r]

If you start reading up on how to go green or simplify your life, one of the most oft given tips is to buy used. Frugal living blogs tout buying used because of the immense savings.

And who could argue with any of that? Of course buying used instead of buying a brand new item saves energy and resources and enables us to get more mileage out of those that have already been expended. Plus, I really love to save a buck.

But even though I'm on board philosophically, buying used is one of the things other frugal, planet-saving minded people seem to do all the time that I struggle with the most.

Take clothes. Of course I'd love to pay $5-$10 per outfit rather than the quadruple to ten times more I pay for new clothes (and that number would be a lot more if I wasn't so cheap..I mean frugal). But I have a really hard time finding used clothes that I love, fit well and don't already look, well, used. Several times I have purchased used clothing items only to never wear them again before finally, guiltily returning them back to the same thrift store I purchased them at. Despite numerous shopping trips to thrift stores to find clothing, I can only count  7 pieces of used clothing I've purchased in the last say 10 years and worn extensively, while other people have created entire blogs out of their thrift store fashion finds.

Why is this, I wonder? Am I just unlucky? Perhaps it's that I don't thrift often enough, don't have a lot of patience to hunt through rack after rack. Or maybe it's a matter of being too tall (I'm 5'11), not skinny enough (although the thrift store I like best seems to have a surplus of 1X items and larger, which is bigger than I wear). And sometimes I think other locales must just enjoy better selections of items than we do, because I see a lot of heavily used clothing, but there again others who nearby prove that theory wrong.

I'm extremely squeamish about buying soft furnishings (bed bug fears you know), shoes, plastic food items and books from thrift stores due to hygiene concerns, so those are off the table entirely.

One of my few thrifting successes

I have had luck in recent years buying purses at my favorite thrift store, which is somewhat hypocritical compared to the list above since you can't throw then in the washer. Instead I leave them in my hot trunk for a number of days to weeks or freeze them to kill the nasties and use Lysol to disinfect. Although I have noticed used purses start to show wear far sooner than new new ones. Over the years I've also purchased a few household items used, mainly decor items like the piece of Pyrex pictured above.

So what about you? Do you have good thrifting karma? Am I the only one who doesn't? Any tips? I'd really love to hear about your thrifting experiences.

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