Monday, December 26, 2016

A minimalist Christmas

It seems like as time goes by our Christmas celebrations have been getting more and more simple and this year was the simplest yet.

I just didn't feel much like decorating this year and the cats would have destroyed a Christmas tree anyway, but I do enjoy having some extra lights around during this time of year. So in the end I decorated the mantle with lights and silver garland, put two electric candles in the front windows (which looks surprisingly festive for very little effort), and added a string of paper star lights around the doorway. For comparison purposes, here's a glimpse at past Christmas decor.

The giving of gifts
Gift-giving was also simplified this year. After the boyfriend and I discussed it, we realized that neither one of us had anything we really needed or wanted for Christmas so instead we exchanged small gifts worth no more than $25. We've done this before and it allows us to celebrate a bit without the stress of having to find the perfect gift. The boyfriend got Trinidad scorpion hot sauce (he likes freakishly hot stuff), hair goop, body wash and a Google play gift card. I got the one thing I asked for and am pretty excited about:

See it? Probably not, let me zoom in.

Sticking with the theme of this post, you could call this minimalist bedside storage --it's a felt pocket with a flap that hides between the mattress and box springs and has plenty of room for the remote, my ipad and phone. There's no room for nightstands in the bedroom, and I really don't miss them much anyway, but it is nice to have a place to put these things so they don't end up flung on the floor or plastered to my face in the middle of the night. And as you can see above, it's pretty unobtrusive.

Beyond the boyfriend, my mom and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year, so that only left my grandma (who loves her annual gift of an Amazon giftcard which she uses to buy ebooks), and presents for the kids (I went with cash this year and hope they'll spend it on doing something fun). So shopping was pretty minimal.

It's not Christmas without sugar cookies
I'm kind of known for my Christmas cookies, and I enjoy eating them as well, so I still made those. But I stuck to the basics: peanut butter blossoms and iced cutout sugar cookies. And they are delish.

The big day
My mom decided she wanted to keep things simple on Christmas day so she came to our house. We made a fairly low-key lunch of steak, baked potato, salad and rolls, played games and watched a movie. There was no drama and little stress -- a definite win!

It was good to experience for myself that even without a bunch of preparation, buildup and effort, Christmas can be fun and festive.

How was your holiday? Do you prefer action-packed holidays and big gatherings or something more low key?

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?


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