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?

Closet Tour: Shoes, Revisited

Let’s talk shoes again! I’ve come a long way from even a couple of years ago when I finally made it from 17 to 11 pairs of shoes. Now that I’m down to seven, I can’t imagine what 17 looked like.

However, I have moved to a much warmer climate where sandals are basically okay all year round so that makes a big difference.

So let’s dive in!

My most necessary shoes

For everyday shoes, I have one pair of Saltwater Sandals (I seriously can’t recommend these enough). I’ve worn them almost every day for the past year, and they’re holding up quite nicely.

I also have a pair of pink sparkle TOMS – I wore these for my wedding two years ago, and they’ve got some major toe holes. I’m going to keep wearing them until I decide what to spring for next. I’ve got my eye on Keep shoes, a conscious, vegan, local LA shoe brand.

For the rare dress occasion, I have three pairs of heels. I could probably get by with only one (or even zero) of these shoes, but I really like the option of heels. I have a sandal-ish pair, a black penny-loafer style, and a grey pointy pair. I’ve had all of these heels for over eight years.

And of course, my running shoes. The red pair is pretty run down and I don’t actually need those anymore, but I keep them on hand in case I somehow find mud in Los Angeles.

The benefits of paring down

What’s been really nice about this journey to pare down on my possessions is that I’ve learned what I really need – and what really makes me happy.

Turns out, shoes don’t make me happy. They might make you happy though! To just reiterate what I’ve said a million times: simplicity is subjective. Make it your own!

I haven’t felt a need (until now, with the hole-y TOMS) to add to my shoe closet in quite a while.


And another thing…

I know I’ve been quiet on this blog for a while, but I just wanted you to know I’m not gone! I’m working on a passion project that I’ll be sharing sometime this summer. 

Yes, it will be fun. No, it won’t cost you money.

Happy Friday!

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.

Bar carts

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?

More, More, More!

More!

It’s not quite the word you’d expect to see on a blog about simplifying.

But I think that it’s a core concept of what I’m trying to do here. I started to simplify when I noticed a lack of space, a lack of time, a lack of joy both in my possessions and in my lifestyle.

I needed more.

Do we always need more?

Of course not. It’s extremely important to know what to seek more of and what to avoid.

Seeking more quality, rewarding relationships is great, but seeking more acquaintances or “contacts” isn’t always best. Although if you love to network, then that’s perfect.

Adding more kitchen appliances for the sake of having a world-class kitchen isn’t productive, but adding more because you are pursuing your passion for cooking is a good start.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: more for the sake of more is what gets us into trouble. Intentionally choosing more (usually not physical, but sometimes it can be) is the sweet spot.

More vs. minimal

It’s time that we stop thinking of more and minimal as mutually exclusive.

Seeking more in a meaningful, intentional way is a recipe for an abundant life. The aim of minimalism and simple living is to get more of the good stuff: the stuff that isn’t necessarily stuff at all.

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It’s a simple opportunity cost: less of one thing means more of another, and vice versa.

So what do you want more of?

Quick practice: making a More List

Here’s a quick way to get your mind moving in the right direction. Grab a piece of paper and jot down ten things you want more of.

There are no bad ideas or wrong answers here – you might want more free time or more exercise, but it’s also okay too see things like more shoes or more ice cream. Just make sure that your list is an honest portrayal of what you want more of.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.

Swedish proverb

Next, consider each item. Why do you want more of each one? I always find that being honest with myself about my motive helps put things into perspective. You might cross off a few here if you realize your motives don’t match your current values.

Finally, break the list down even further.

What do you need less of in order to get more of each item? The obvious answer for most physical things or experiences is money. Is it worth it?

You’ll also see things that cost space, time, or energy. I’m not saying that spending these things is a bad idea, just be sure weigh the costs and benefits and work out what’s best for you.

Redefining minimalism

I’ve been thinking about this idea – of minimalism being about more – lately, and I was happy to hear that others who share my sentiment.

Brooke McAlary interviewed James Wallman on her Slow Home Podcast, and they discussed this issue of minimalism’s “branding problem” among other things. Minimalism is so commonly perceived in the negative light of denial and subtracting things from our lives that it can be unappealing and exhausting.

It doesn’t have to be!

So here’s my challenge to you: find what you want more of and start working towards it. Think about that process of having less of something in order to get more of what you want.

That’s how you define your minimalism.

Simplicity Helped Define My Style

If you asked me six years ago to define my style, I would have rattled off a long list: vintage, eclectic, bright, and probably experimental.

What that really meant was this: I don’t know.

But now, although I don’t feel like I have one word to describe my style, it’s a lot easier for me to decide what works for me and what doesn’t. Part of it comes with time, but part of it is thanks to my efforts at simplifying.

How a simple closet made shopping easier

I haven’t purchased a lot of clothing since I got rid of most of my wardrobe, but it’s been a lot easier (and more fun!) to shop since then.

I’ve been able to rule impulse purchases out more quickly based on whether or not it will work with my existing wardrobe: sure, it’s a great skirt but I don’t have shirts to go with it. Also, I don’t usually wear skirts.

Living with a reduced wardrobe has helped me see more clearly what pieces are missing, too. I’ve noticed a lack of patterns in my wardrobe that bothers me (I love multicolored pieces), so I know to keep my eye out for patterned dresses and shirts.

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My whole closet. It used to be three times this large!

The blank slate

Simplifying my wardrobe created a blank slate for me, too. After my college wardrobe of weird “vintage” finds and my high school mashup of every shade of pink, I took a U-turn and only kept dark, basic pieces.

Which is great! But now I’m in a place where I feel like I can start adding in new pieces that really inspire me and that are way more intentional than any of my past purchases.

Even if you don’t identify as a minimalist, this can be a welcome exercise to remind yourself of what you really love and reset your mindset for future purchases.

It’s good to remove yourself from trends sometimes and just think about the pieces that make you feel good.

My style: present and future

So here we are. I made it past the pink wide-flare pants and the homemade dresses that fell apart while I was wearing them. I’m past the ill-fitting, uncomfortable, and sometimes stained “vintage” finds that I gravitated towards in college.

I’m sure you have had similar phases.

But now, I’m looking forward to adding pieces one at a time into my wardrobe (and typically with the one in/one out policy).

My new shopping guidelines are this: quality staples and joyful/versatile patterns. And more pink – I somehow got rid of most of my pink clothes.

But above all, I’m making a commitment to purchasing the majority of my clothing from ethically-made brands. The best part of that? Since there are fewer ethical brands available, my shopping will have to be well-researched and filled with intention.

So tell me about your wardrobe! What are your intentional style choices?

When Simple isn’t Easy

Throughout the past few years, I’ve been moving towards a more simple life. I’m seeking less chaos, less clutter, less shopping, less spending, you get it – I want less so that I can have more of what really matters.

More freedom, more mental space, more peace, more time.

But that last one is interesting. What if simplifying leads us to do things…that take up more time?

Simple Isn't Always Easy

How simple can get complicated

For starters, let’s make it clear: I don’t have any more hours in the day now than I did three years ago. None of us do.

But I have found myself allocating those hours so differently these days, and not in ways you might expect.

I clean more often (although it takes less time), I prepare food constantly (or at least it feels like I do), and I spend more time planning days than I have ever done before.

So, what changed? Isn’t one of the driving factors of minimalism getting to the point of doing fewer chores? I think I figured it out:

My values have evolved.

Doing more of these chores isn’t counterintuitive to my minimalism journey. In fact, they’re a direct result of it.

I’m cleaning more often because I love a clear, clean space (and with two bunnies, dusting & vacuuming are imperative). I make my bed, I clear counters and desks, I even do laundry more than I used to. Because a clean home and fewer clothes have become important to me.

I’m also cleaning more because I’m cooking more. Food used to be filler – something to literally get me from point A to point B. Now, food is everything. It no longer just “takes up space” in my stomach – I truly value it as my source of life and energy. That’s why it’s become complicated – soaking beans, shopping two times a week for fresh produce, adding useful kitchen gadgets and even more tupperware for leftovers, etc.

Marketers have convinced us that pre-packaged food is simple: just throw it in the microwave! That’s not quite right – it’s convenient, not simple.

“Convenient” is for when we don’t have the time, “simple” is for when we can make the time. Which brings me to my next point.

Planning a simple life

Now for the planning – I wouldn’t have a simple life without planning for it. Or at least being intentional about my time.

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I take my sweet time when planning my day.

Some days, I don’t take the time to jot down a few goals while I drink my morning coffee. I can feel it for the rest of my day. I feel less grounded and more hectic, which is not a recipe for a happy Emily.

Do you feel it too? If so, I challenge you to take note of it next time you feel that way. Stop, drop and write down your three next steps. Is three too many? Even one will do. Even if it’s “put on a pot of tea” or simply “shower”.

Intentions and a podcast worth listening to

I’ve been learning a lot about intentions and values lately, and it’s helped to put some things into perspective. It’s helped organize my outcome-based goals into long-term guiding values.

If you’re simplifying, remember to always ask yourself why. Reminding yourself frequently of your “why” will help you if you get frustrated about something being just a little more complicated than you thought it would be.

And your “why” might change!

To start finding out more about your gut instincts, check out Jess Lively’s tips on setting intentions. Then check out her podcast, The Lively Show. Start at the beginning, because each episode is filled with inspiration and intentional living tips!

So, simplify!

Simplify to your heart’s content. But don’t be afraid when commitments or projects arise because of it.

If the project really does fit into your life or with your values, you now have less of the “other stuff” to stop you.

So, clean that kitchen every day and be proud that you’re using it. A simple life is not some fantasy of never having chores – it’s a life where the chores we do actually support the life we want.

Closet Tour: Activewear

I’ve written about my bags, my jewelry and my dresses in the past, but now it’s time to dive in to my approach to activewear.

First, before we begin: there were no pink running spandex when I was in high school, or anything colorful or patterned. So that’s the great tragedy of this post.

Moving on.

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How I use activewear

I’m going to be candid: I don’t work out every day, but when I do…it’s not that intense. I tend towards cardio and yoga, so my approach might not work for you if you’re constantly doing high-intensity exercise.

That being said, I still think it’s easy to keep things fairly simple.

I re-wear stuff, depending on the level of activity. Especially since I don’t go to a gym where I’m close to a lot of other people. Is that gross? Well, it works for me!

I like to imagine that I’ll just rinse stuff out in the shower when I’m done exercising and hang it in the bathroom for the next day’s use, but I usually don’t get to that step. But I figure that would be a nice solution for someone who exercises frequently and wants to keep laundry to a minimum.

I also have quite a few things that have several purposes, although it doesn’t always serve my best interests: I use my shorts and t-shirts as loungewear and sometimes PJs. Though there’s a big problem with that – when I put on the shorts, I relate that to curling up in bed with some tea instead of hitting the pavement for a run.

Someday I’ll have more of a defined line between my activewear and loungewear, but for now here’s what I have.

A minimalist’s activewear

I keep a lot more shirts on hand than any other things since those are often the sweatiest. I also love leggings because they got me through years of fall and winter runs in Indiana, and still are great for chilly days (hah) here in Los Angeles.

Plus, you look like you know what you’re doing fitness-wise when you wear them.

What I have:

  • 1 pair running shoes
  • 2 tank tops
  • 5 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve
  • 5 sports bras
  • 3 leggings
  • 1 pair yoga pants
  • 4 soffe shorts

The shorts have puffy paint on them from high school (the oldest pair is eleven years old). My cross country coach called me “Floyd” because I liked pink so much, although at the time I had never heard a single Pink Floyd song. That’s why they all say Floyd.

The thing about workout clothes

Here’s something I love about this type of clothing – while the trendy stuff is really cute, at the end of the day it’s all about function. Does it provide your body the protection it needs while you are exercising?

I’m going to hazard a guess here and say that the average piece of activewear item that I own is seven years old. Some I got last year, and some (like those shorts and that yellow long sleeve shirt) are over ten years old.

Most are from when I was a cross country runner 8-12 years ago. Ugh, don’t remind me.

They still function like new! So when you are in the market for workout clothes, do some research and find quality items that will collect your sweat through thick and thin for the next decade.

The only thing I am sure to change out regularly are my running shoes – every year or two if I’m not running frequently, and every six months or so if I’m really on top of my running game.

What are your workout must-haves?