Simple Habits for a Clutter Free Home

I’ve moved! You can now follow along with my adventures at my new blog, Ennaree

www.ennaree.com


It’s no secret: I’m a messy person. Actually, I spent the first twenty-something years of my life ignoring that fact. But now that I share my space with someone else full time, I’ve realized that it is, in fact, me.

The most ironic part of it is that I am the first person to be bothered by a messy home. I’ve scoured the internet for tips on how to keep things tidy (for untidy people like me), and I’ve been slowly piecing together some good habits to help keep me sane.

My best practices for a clutter-free home

Obviously, the first and foremost tip I can give is to keep a simple home. If you’re reading this on my blog, you probably could have guessed that. But let’s talk about less conventional rules and habits that I’ve developed to help keep our tiny apartment clean!

 Treat the countertop as sacred space

This one is new-to-me, and actually works so well for me that it prompted me to write this post with other tips. Make it a rule that no dirty dish ever graces your countertop.

We’ve all been there (maybe): all of the dirty dishes piling up on one side of the sink, and then slowly taking over other available counter space. This new rule makes it so that every single dirty dish you bring to the kitchen goes straight into the sink. Is the sink too full? Then it’s time to either wash the dishes or load them into the dishwasher. Or, you can get in the habit of clearing it first thing in the morning or right before bed.

It works especially well for me since it makes the dishes more manageable if I handle them in smaller batches.

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 Make the bed

This one provides an instant boost. I’ve always known that my day seems a little brighter when I make my bed, but it’s not always top-of-mind.

It’s not just me, either: making your bed really can have a huge impact on your day.

Open the blinds

We try to keep as much light out at night, but during the day it’s essential for me to have my curtains pulled open. Natural light is just so pleasant.

Plus, by opening the curtains and blinds, I can more easily see dust. It sounds gross, but it’s way more motivating to clean when I can see the problem areas easily.

Everything gets a home

Yes, everything. If it’s beautiful and you use it often, set it out so that it can add to your decor. If it’s terribly ugly and you never use it…wait why do you have it?

Designate space in your cupboards for things like cleaning supplies or ugly (but useful) cookware. You might even go so far as to giving different groups of spices different homes on the spice rack – just start developing the habit of putting them right back where they belong when you are done.

I even give library books space on my nightstand or bookshelf so that they don’t just float around the apartment haphazardly. It also makes me feel super cool to have interesting books on my shelves – without having to pay for them.

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Make it a pleasurable experience

Find ways to make your cleaning habits more enjoyable. Have dusting rags in your favorite color, pick a wonderful scent for your cleaning product, splurge on durable and reliable tools to help you clean.

Right now, our dustpan is held together by masking tape and it makes me cringe every time I have to use it. So in the near future, I’ll be getting a dust pan that won’t snap immediately when I use it. We also splurged on a Swiffer WetJet and we ended up using it way more often than the shoddy mop we had initially purchased.

Basically, don’t skimp on tools if the better version will make cleaning more pleasurable (or at least more tolerable).

And now, for something completely different

This one is going to come as a bit of a surprise. While it’s not a regular habit, I do think there’s something to it for those of us who find our homes regularly cluttered: redecorate.

 

Don’t be afraid to switch things up, add things or remove things to make your space feel more intentional. It’s okay to style a bookshelf with pretty things that bring you joy if that means you keep other random (and unhappy) clutter from gathering there.

If you’re not intentional with your space, your things (no matter how few you have) will start to take control. I’ve been working on being more purposeful in my design and layout of the apartment, and that’s been a huge help in managing the flow of “stuff” through our home.

Are you messy like me? What are your favorite cleaning or decluttering habits?

 

Simple in the City: Entertainment

Living in a small apartment in the city has some major perks, but entertaining can be tough when you only have a few square feet to spare.

A typical Saturday at our apartment looks like this: sitting on the floor around the coffee table tossing game dice with six other people. Sometimes we pull together all of the chairs we can find (and chairs that friends bring) and squeeze to fit around our dining table.

Most of us hold our drinks because there’s no table space available thanks to the extensive board games we like to play.

We have one of the largest apartments in our group of friends (650 square feet), so we’re most often the gathering place. For as fun as it can be, it can get overwhelming. So how do you keep it simple when it comes to entertainment outside the apartment?

Why it’s not always best to stay in

My husband and I love our evenings together in the apartment. But, since I work from home all week and don’t usually have access to the car, I need to get out at least once or twice during the weekends.

Staying in is cheaper, yes, but when you’re living in a large city there’s so many opportunities for unique and interesting entertainment. It makes “keeping it simple” a little bit difficult, but by defining what you really want in advance and creating a solid plan, you can expand your horizons without the overwhelm.

And that’s why it’s not always best to stay in: getting out and seeing different things gives me new ideas and fresh eyes. It’s a great way to kickstart a sluggish creative muscle.

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Planning makes perfect

I’m a big proponent of planning. Even if I don’t follow the plan to the letter, it always gives me clarity and direction for the week.

So start by defining clearly what you enjoy doing and what you expect from entertainment. For me, physical activity, chatting with new people and trying new beverages in interesting places are important parts of entertainment. You might like quiet spaces, ear-bursting concerts, historical education, cultural immersion, getting out of town or staying close to home.

Then, considering your budget, put together a list of general things that meet those expectations that you can reasonably do most weekends or in your spare time. Mine would be hiking, checking out coffee shops or bars, or taking a class or going to a meetup of sorts.

Then fill in the spaces! If you like hiking, spend some time each week finding a new place to hike. I scour Yelp for popular bars or cafes and plan a happy hour when I can to save a few bucks. Planning what, when, and where you are going to do in advance adds a little structure and prevents drastic impulse decisions, last-minute planning stress or defaulting to something like shopping for the sake of shopping.

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A few ideas for finding entertainment

If you’re the outdoorsy type, check out All Trails and look for good hikes in your area. I’ve been using Hiking Guy, but he’s only got a limited area of coverage. Google is your friend here – keep an eye out for tips on getting to trailheads, parking, what supplies to bring, and difficulty level.

If you’re gastronomically inclined, Yelp is the obvious choice. I’ve found that since moving to the city, there are a LOT more reviews, which makes the average rating a little more accurate. I was used to seeing 10 reviews for places in Indiana, compared to hundreds or thousands here. Where the F*** Should I Go to Eat? is a fun website when you’re feeling stuck.

Once you find a restaurant or cafe you like, check out their events calendar online for open mics, concerts or happy hours. Bar entertainment is usually cheap and more intimate than a giant concert venue.

And if you’re lucky enough to have comedy schools available (I’m looking at you, LA, Chicago and NYC), check out student teams and professional comedy groups. Stand-up and improv comedy can be inexpensive if you know where to look! The Groundlings, Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade are great places to look for solid evenings of entertainment.

I hope a few of those ideas strike a chord with you! What is your favorite way to stay entertained without all the overwhelm?

While we’re on the subject, you should check out my husband’s newest YouTube sketch that he wrote and performed for his comedy group The Swing Shift. They’re such a talented group of people who I have the pleasure of calling my friends. Victor (my husband) is pursuing his passion for comedy as a student at The Groundlings School!


Simple in the City: Getting Around

You’ve found a place to live, so now it’s time to explore your city. But how? Today we’re talking transportation!

The golden rule of transportation

Let’s all say it together, class: less is more. After a year and a half of big city life (and big city traffic), it’s safe to say that the less commuting you have to deal with, the better.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hop in the car every once in a while—our trips to the beach and to local hiking spots are a welcome respite from the madness of Hollywood.

But, like I outlined in my post about where to live, the closer you are to necessities the better. My best tip is to avoid long commutes to and from work, especially if you’re traversing that path twice a day, five days a week.

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The zen of driving

When you do have to drive, make it a positive experience. That’s not always possible in Los Angeles, but I try my darndest.

Bring a bottle of water or tea and a granola bar for longer drives. A sip here and there at stoplights or stuck in traffic can relieve a lot of tension. Avoid anything too caffeinated for regular commutes, because it’ll just make you anxious. Also if you’re like me, coffee may cause some bowel emergencies that aren’t welcome when you’re stuck in traffic.

Know your route as much as you can before taking off, and know that a GPS is an excellent alternative to a phone—no one texts you on your GPS.

And of course, music makes things a whole lot better. I’ve been hooked on public radio, classical/jazz stations, and classic rock. I try to keep it easy and low-key for driving so that I can stay calm. Road rage is all the rage here in SoCal.

And for the love of all things, put the phone down.

Opting out of the car chaos

We’ve chosen the hassle and expenses of a car, but because of those drawbacks, we’re going to stick with just one for the foreseeable future. I’ll discuss this more in detail in a later post about budgeting, but insurance alone is three times more expensive here than in the Midwest, so that’s something to consider.

If you’d rather live without a car, there’s no better place to do it than in the city. There’s public transportation, taxis or other transportation networks, bikes, and just plain walking.

Since I’m not well-versed enough in public transportation (I’ll admit that I’ve never called an Uber), I can’t really give great tips. My best advice is to research, research, research. And take advantage of first-time ride offers when you can!

If you’d prefer to bike, find out what you can about bike laws. In Los Angeles, keep an eye out for where you can ride your bike on the sidewalk versus the road (drivers are insane here, so I’d be nervous on the road). Look for bike lanes and bike routes so you can get where you’re going as safely and efficiently as possible.

It’s okay to stay close to home

I’ve scoured maps of our area and keep an eye out online for new restaurants, bars, and cafes opening up within walking distance. There are plenty of unique spots in our area that we’ve become quite fond of.

For the first time ever, there’s actually a bar a few blocks away where the server knows my name. It’s opened up even more opportunities to explore—she can recommend places I haven’t discovered yet.

Stay safe in your travels, my friends! How do you prefer to get around in your city?

Simple in the City: Where to Live

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: cities aren’t all just cement and buildings, and rural areas aren’t all just cornfields or desert. There’s so much variation throughout every landscape that you can make just about anything out of just about anywhere.

So once you decide where to live (there aso many great cities to choose from), you have to decide exactly where to live within that space. And if you’re looking to keep things simple, the cheapest area is not always the most ideal.

So what should you look for in a city dwelling?

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Location

This is honestly my top priority, especially in a city like Los Angeles. I know so many people with 45+ minute commutes each way – and it’s not a peaceful one, either.

It may take some fancy financial footwork, but living as close as you can to your work and everyday needs will save you more than it costs in the long run. We managed to find an apartment that is surrounded by grocery stores, cafes and farmer’s markets – and it’s only four miles from my husband’s office.

We searched Craigslist and Zillow for available spaces within a specific zipcode, but you can search by neighborhood, street, or using the lasso tool on Zillow.

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Style & livability

Good style and livability are essentials for me, although it may not be for you. I have to have a lot of windows (this apartment has five huge windows) and the layout needs to make sense to me. An outdoor area is preferred, but not required, as I like to grow plants on balconies and doorsteps.

The best part of city life is that you don’t need vast amounts of square footage, since there’s always something going on outside of your home. Plus, living in a smaller space means you have to curate your possessions – less space means more intentional living.

We are still finding things to donate or trash, and we’re a year and a half into living in Los Angeles.

Don’t be afraid to sacrifice room for entertaining guests. Turns out, our friends don’t care too much about a formal dinner or extra seating. Gathering around our coffee table on mismatched chairs and pillows on the floor and playing games is one of my favorite memories so far.

Affordability

This obviously has its limits based on your specific budget, but it’s more nuanced than you might think.

For example, the cost of two hours commuting could be transferred to paying for a more expensive apartment fifteen minutes from the office.

The right layout can help with your budget too: if your kitchen is conveniently designed, you’ll feel more inclined to make food from scratch in your home. Paying for a better kitchen might be worth it if the alternative is frozen or fast-food dinners.

And finally, know that you’re paying for the experience you’re going to have as a city dweller. If you can afford to pay a little extra for a space you love, it’s going to be easier to thrive in the city environment. If you’re too focused on the bottom line, you may find yourself sacrificing your own well-being.

Signing a lease is like choosing the lens through which you’ll see the next year of your life. What will yours look like?

Simple in the City: A Series

Simple living doesn’t always mean going off the grid and self sustaining – you can live a simple, slow life anywhere.

My husband and I have learned a few lessons about city life from living in Los Angeles, and I wanted to share those with you in a series I’m calling “Simple in the City.”

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To some people, slowing down and living an urban lifestyle can go hand in hand, and still others can make a “rural” lifestyle fit into the city they live in:

It it possible to be simple in the city?

Yes! We have a more simple daily life in the middle of Los Angeles (just south of Hollywood) than when we lived on the outskirts of Indianapolis. There, we had to drive everywhere (except Target and Starbucks, and even then there were no sidewalks).

Here in LA, we’re able to get to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, coffee shops and more just within a mile’s walk. Bonus: there are sidewalks and there is no winter (sorry NYC).

We also have more free activities, local restaurants and rich sources of entertainment than we did in Indianapolis (I will say, though, that we never lived downtown in Indy, which would have been a lot more interesting).

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The living spaces in the heart of the city are tailor-made for people who want to live small, and typically are designed with efficiency in mind. And since there’s more to choose from, it’s easier to find a place in the exact location you want to live. Hello, short commute.

The extra cost is palpable, but that’s where you have to ask yourself: is this experience worth the expense?

City life isn’t for everyone, but don’t let your ideas of “simple” prevent you from pursuing the life you desire.

What this series will cover

There’s a lot to say about living with less in the city. You can go as extreme or as mainstream as you want.

Obviously, there are no rules for simple living (only what you decide for yourself), but I can provide some guidelines and lessons I’ve learned about urban life. You can look forward to city-specific posts about:

  • Finances
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Entertainment
  • Shopping (specifically food)

There’s such a misconception about city life being hectic (especially Los Angeles), so I want to provide an alternative insider’s perspective. There are many pains (like traffic, expenses, lack of nature) that can be mitigated by just living in the right area of town.

Simple city living is about working with the flow and rhythm of the city instead of against it.

Stay tuned for these posts over the next few weeks! What city have you dreamed of living in?

The Dusting Rule for a Simple Home

Dusting. It’s something we all do at least once a year or so when we finally see how gross the top of our bookshelves are.

Or, if you’re like me and live in a particularly dust-prone apartment, you just try to put it off until company comes.

Having to dust frequently is the other reason why I choose to keep surfaces to a minimum, second to my habit of filling them up as soon as they are clutter-free. Any surface I don’t use on a regular basis gets covered in a nice little film of bunny fluff and whatever else it is that is constantly floating around our apartment.

But we are settling in to our apartment for the long haul, and I feel like it’s time to slowly and intentionally put some good thought into styling our space. The internet is filled with cute bar carts and bookshelves that are just as filled with cute trinkets and decor, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to take from that to inspire our own home.

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So cute, but so dusty.

But when is it all enough?

The dusting rule

Enter my new rule for any home decor item that comes through my door: will I want to dust this? Will I do this gladly?

The first question is, almost universally, probably a no. But it basically is a way to ask yourself if you are willing to commit time, space and energy to this new addition to your home.

The second question is where it gets interesting. Will you gladly take care of this item? Will you grow resentful of that dusty, cluttered bar cart in the corner, or will you be happy to share your space with it?

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I love my little sparkle jars, and am happy to dust them. Plus, it’s just a fun way to store my little holiday garlands when I’m not using them.

If dusting cute bottles and fake flowers means that you get a huge smile on your face whenever you see it, then it passes the dusting rule. But if it doesn’t….you know the drill.

Skip it.

It’s a super simple rule, but I thought I’d share with you because it’s been helping me a lot lately. I’ve been able to decide what I’m looking forward to adding, replacing or removing in the future and any rules are good rules for me.

This goes for teapots, chairs, tapestries, curtains, you name it. If it will gather dust and you don’t love it, ditch it.

So there’s a super-quick tip for simplifying and avoiding regretful purchases. What is your best rule of thumb for simple home decor and housewares?

Intentional Grocery Shopping

We made it to March! And the numbers are in: we ended up spending under $300 for groceries, but it wasn’t as precise as I initially planned. My birthday was in the middle of the month, and my request for a home-cooked meal ended up a little pricier than anticipated.

Aside from that though, we did stick to meal planning, list-making, and sale-seeking.

To wrap up my series on our “Cheap Food February” challenge, I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve learned after a month of intentional shopping.

What is intentional shopping?

I’d like to think of myself as an intentional shopper (I’m sure most of us do). But this month of a lower, more strict food budget showed me that I really had become quite mindless at the grocery store.

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It’s not even just having a list and sticking to it that makes shopping intentional – it’s the whole planning process.

It’s kind of like what I look for if I need to shop for new clothing – something that’s multipurpose, is something I love and something that’s easy to mix with other things. Put that into context of food, and this is what you should be looking for:

  • Food that can be prepared in different ways.
  • Food that always (or almost always) hits the spot.
  • Food that goes well with a variety of other foods.

Basically, beans, rice, leafy greens, chicken (if you’re into it), and root vegetables (sweet potatoes rock my world). Having these things on hand taught me another valuable lesson: to try and make one more dish before shopping again.

Making a dish from what you already have

Since I want to use every little bit of food that I can, I’ve been putting grocery shopping off just one more day. And maybe because sometimes I get a little lazy, but don’t we all?

I then face the challenge of making do with what I have – an awesome challenge to help reduce your food waste. The typical solution? Bean soup.

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I usually have tomatoes, onions, carrots and sometimes celery. Boom, there’s a base for the soup. I’ll toss chicken or veggie bouillon in as well for an extra punch of flavor. Black beans are my usual favorite, but I’ve been getting into pinto beans, great northern beans and venturing into lentils as well.

I’ll switch up the spices – cumin, garlic and cayenne for a Mexican-style soup, coriander, ginger and curry powder for an amazing curry. I love this recipe, which also has you poach eggs in the soup before serving:

Takeaways from “Cheap Food February”

While I didn’t completely overhaul my diet, I did find myself making better decisions about food. My husband and I had way more conversations about it, and it became a much more important part of our days.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • A little prep can go a long way. Soak beans when you get home from work, then toss them into the crock pot on low for the night. You’ll have beans for tomorrow – and they’re cheaper than the canned ones.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables can save you tons. My favorite use so far has been for smoothies: 99 cents of frozen spinach can make 4-6 smoothies. I blend mine up with hot water (to thaw it for consistency), then add in frozen pineapple, banana and today I added zucchini.
  • Look for “scratch and dent” produce. I found a little corner in the back of the Ralph’s (Kroger) that has shelves of pre-bagged produce that is either too ripe or blemished. For 99 cents a bag, you can get several pounds of apples, bananas, potatoes, squash, etc. I check there first and either toss the produce into the freezer or cook it up right away.
  • Healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. We’ve been eating produce-heavy meals this month, and if you do it right, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Stews and soups use up a huge variety of veggies, and you don’t have to waste anything. Stretch them by putting them over baked sweet potatoes or brown rice!

We’ve also started talking about creating a hanging garden outside of our apartment on our railing. We want to start growing food for the rabbits! And for ourselves, too I guess. So keep an eye out for that soon.

This is definitely one of those changes that are going to stick with us as we move forward. No more unprepared grocery trips for us!

Are you an intentional shopper? Do you have any tips to share?