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?

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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?

A California Christmas

We’ll be home for Christmas. But in a different way – we’re going to spend Christmas at our home in California instead of our home in Indiana.

So this year I really want to design a Christmas around that idea – we are home. Our Christmas plans will look different from year to year, but a lot of what I said last year about the holidays still rings true. Especially the part about trying to focus on experiences over things for Christmas.

So let’s take a peek at five of the big pieces of our holiday this year.

Christmas California

Home

I love Christmas lights, but for some reason I’m not crazy about other seasonal decorations. My husband loves it though, so I picked up a few different festive items and did what I could to make the apartment cheerful (and not overwhelming).

Alternative Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

We even decorated the bunny cage with little ornaments and some garland. The most important decorations were actually candles, because we love the ambiance that the scent of winter pine brings to our space.

The best part? We can store these decorations in a space smaller than a shoe box.

Gifts

Again, we’re keeping it simple. For the nephews (six of them under the age of 12), we got walkie-talkies – a gift that is only fun if you’re spending time with others. I loved the idea of them running around the house, radioing to each other like secret agents.

[SPOILER ALERT] For the grownups, we did what we felt each family member would use or appreciate most. We gave practical things like gift cards, fun & useful coffee mugs and I even found some awesome glass straws for my smoothie-loving mother.

We also did something new this year for a few of our family members – we donated to charities in their honor. We picked a different charity for everyone we did this for, because we wanted it to be relevant and meaningful to each of them.

Family

We miss everyone terribly this season, but we’re so fortunate to have the communication we do with everyone. Calling, texting and skyping keep us all almost close enough to touch.

To reach out even a little further, we took Christmas photos of us and the bunnies and are sending out hand-written cards to let grandparents, friends and other family members know that we’re thinking about them.Christmas Cards

Even sitting down to write the cards has helped with those holiday blues I wrote about in my last post.

Charity

Since we don’t have a lot of holiday parties to go to this year, we’re going to spend a little bit of Christmas Eve volunteering and serving food for those in need.

We’ve both been feeling like it’s time to start sharing our time more with others who need it, so I think this is a start to something we can pick up in 2016!

I wanted to share this little tidbit since I think it might be a good option for people celebrating holidays far from home, and it might serve as a starting point for our future holidays in California.

Togetherness

This is the most important for us this year. Instead of gifts, we’re investing in strategic, sit-down-and-talk-to-me games.

King of Tokyo and Rivals for Catan are our most recent additions.

My husband has some holiday time off, so we’re going to spend our days exploring new places in LA, planning for 2016 and playing games to our hearts’ content.

Because being together is what it’s really about, right?

Happy Holidays!

 

A Minimalist Apartment Tour

Happy Friday!

I want to kick off this glorious, autumn-in-LA morning with a tour of my home. We’ve lived in Los Angeles for ten months and have slowly added things back into our life based on our needs and our values.

We are a far cry from where we were in Indianapolis a year ago, drowning in stuff we didn’t need and didn’t love.

But first, I want to share my best tip for avoiding new purchases for your home.

How to not buy new home decor

I often catch myself saying things like “what if we got just one more chair…” but I know that’s not something that will truly bring me happiness. I’m guessing that you’ve said something like that too.

The other day, I actually considered getting a bar cart for a random corner of the apartment. Sure, it sounds cool, but it’s one more thing to wipe rabbit hair off of. And I doubt that prominently displaying our liquor will help with us in our efforts to trim back on the booze.

So what do I do when I’m sick of the way things are and want to add in a new piece? Hint: it’s not new throw pillows.

I rearrange the furniture.

When the room no longer feels “right” to me, I move things around. I have relocated our furniture no less than five times in ten months. This last switch actually has hit the right chord for me and made me never want to move out of this apartment. I love this space more than ever, all thanks to some heavy lifting.

So there you have it: to change the entire look and feel of a room without spending a dime, rearrange the furniture.

Our minimalist apartment tour

Remember how I said minimalism can be colorful? My minimalism is definitely not for the monochromatic crowd, so prepare yourself accordingly.

First, the main space where we eat, work and relax:

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We’ve covered the whole space in giant rugs so that our rabbits can frolic freely, which I love because it brings so much color to the room.

Next, the bedroom and bathroom:

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Again, colorful and bright – I can’t get over how many windows are in this place. What sold me on our apartment in Indianapolis was that it had three windows, compared to most other places having only two. This apartment has five huge windows that keeps things so cheerful that I can’t help but smile.

And finally, our kitchen:

Apartment Tour - KitchenApartment Tour - SpicesI decided to bring all the spices and many dry ingredients out of (and off of) the cupboards because I want them to be easily accessible and I want to be aware of what I have on hand at all times.

Personal tidbits

To finish this post off, I want to share a couple spaces that make our apartment really ours. Especially since it’s basically an IKEA showroom.

As silly as they look, these odds and ends are meaningful to us:

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I just wanted to show that you can dedicate space in your home to collections of things that truly bring you joy. Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of meaningful collections – it’s about getting rid of meaningless excess.

And of course, I want to wrap this up by saying this: these photos were taken when our apartment was freshly cleaned. I cropped out the dirty laundry and kept the rabbits’ litterboxes out of sight. I tend to compare my reality with what I see on blogs, so just know this: six out of seven days a week, my apartment is not nearly this clean.

I love all the colors in my home. What part of your home do you love the most?

Minimalism Can Be Colorful

One of the biggest misconceptions about minimalism is that it has to be dull. Monochrome houses, interiors and wardrobes are the images that come to mind.

I actually had a hard time when I decided to become a minimalist because of that very thought. I love color.

But since we started back at square one when we moved to LA, I wanted to keep my apartment simple and colorful.

Simple Colorful Living - Minimalism can be colorful!

A colorful home

We made our apartment colorful by adding yellow curtains, tons of multicolor rugs (the rabbits need them for playtime) and actually painting a wall.

Painting was a big step for me because it helped me feel a greater sense of permanence and ownership.

We keep our home colorful by adding in fresh flowers. I especially love them beside my desk because I can enjoy them while I’m working.

Fresh flowers at home

Don’t be intimidated by those black and white interiors that you always see, and don’t let that stop you from simplifying. It’s okay to have some brightness in your life!

As I always say, if it brings you joy, then it belongs.

I guess that’s why none of my rugs or curtains really match each other. If I need something and it happens to come in a color I like, I ditch the notion that everything has to match and get the color that brings me most joy.

A colorful wardrobe

As I’ve pared down, I have found that I do tend to stick to neutrals more than I used to.

But I think that’s because the colorful stuff I had before was all just junk that caught my eye at the store. It was flashy, but in the cheapest way.

I’ve started to see more of my favorite colors come to play in my wardrobe – there’s nothing quite like the happiness that wearing pink brings me.

Clothes drawer

All of my shirts, pants, shorts and skirts fit into one drawer these days.

Patterns? Yes please. I love tiny floral prints and stripes because they can be paired with other things easily. I don’t like a lot of effort when it comes to choosing what to wear, so I appreciate the versatility of my patterns.

My minimalism and making it yours

My minimalism is bright but essential and simple but colorful. I’m working on implementing that concept even past the physical possessions: simple, colorful happiness and bright, essential conversations and relationships.

Your minimalism could look more or less colorful than mine, you could own more or less than I do. The point of minimalism is not to reach a destination – it’s about the intention that rides along with you on the journey. Seek a simpler life and keep/purchase only what truly adds joy to your life.

Cheers to a bright Sunday!

There Is No Such Thing As Free Stuff

TANSTAAFL

If there’s one thing I remember from high school economics, it’s that acronym. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

And I think I know why it’s stuck with me for so long – it’s true.

In college, I loved getting free lanyards and water bottles and coozies (I’ve never even used a coozie) from career fairs and other campus activities.

Once I got my own apartment, I often picked up furniture that was left by dumpsters and brought it home with me. I didn’t even do anything cool with it, like my friend Meg does over on her blog – her buffet and mini chest are breathtaking.

I still have a hard time resisting the “free stuff” I find sitting out by the curb. But it’s not really free.

There is no such thing as free stuff

How we’re paying for this free stuff

Free stuff can actually be really expensive when you do the math.

We pay for it with our time – picking it up, cleaning it, moving it around in our homes. Even the time we spend considering whether to take it or not is time we can spend doing something else.

We pay for it with our space – the bigger the item, the more physical and mental space it takes up. It takes up space that could be for something more intentional, or even nothing at all. It’s also stressful to think that I have something in my life that’s irrelevant and unnecessary – but I keep it because it was free.

Finally, we pay for it with our energy – we have to make decisions about each one of our possessions every time we move. Actually, every time we look at our possessions we have some sort of response. Do you want negative responses to the free “junk” in the garage to continue?

Where does it come from, anyway?

Free stuff is all around us. There are signs in store windows and banner ads all calling out FREE! FREE! FREE!

Here are a few places to watch out for free stuff – and remember, not all of it is good free stuff.

  • Yard sales & curb alerts – These are traps for free and super-cheap junk. Seeing free stuff on the side of the road can impair your judgment and make you more impulsive – I’ve been known to pick up dirty & broken (beyond repair) things that I don’t even need. Make sure it’s worth it!
  • Hand-me-downs & clothing swaps – I think clothing swaps are an amazing way to get new clothes. However, they can be too tempting if you’re not really in the market for something specific or don’t fully understand your personal style. Hand-me-downs are also the beginning of the end for many childhood closets – it can be uncomfortable for children to get rid of things that have been passed around in the family. So it stays.
  • Promotional items – This stuff is sneaky. It’s easy to take it if everyone’s doing it, but know that it’s fine to pass on this junk if you don’t need it. My husband and I have some Coca-Cola word magnets we got for free a few months ago…and our fridge isn’t even magnetic.
  • BOGO – The most deceitful of them all. Unless you need both things, avoid at all costs – guys, the second item is not free. The first item is marked up enough to warrant the second item’s free-ness. It’s a trick to get you in the store, and if anyone tells you otherwise…then tell them politely that they’re wrong.

A cautionary nail tale

Free things can cost in other ways, too. When I moved into my first apartment, I was in need of some furniture. I was lucky enough to find a full dining table, a beat-up side table and a weird green set of drawers that had no knobs.

I really only needed the table, but it was all free, so why not?

My friend Stephanie helped me carry each piece across the long parking lot and into my apartment. In our fits of laughter, we didn’t check the set of drawers before bringing it into my apartment. What could go wrong?

There was a toenail in the drawer.

A giant, yellowed toenail.

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And yet…I kept it. I cleaned everything thoroughly with Clorox wipes and proceeded to move it around with me for three more years. I didn’t even like it.

So this set of drawers cost me years of moving and a weird toenail, but I did get a free story out of the deal.

There is some good news about free stuff

Of course, not all free stuff is bad. And not all free things have old toenails in them.

I recently picked up a bedside table, a corkboard and a chalkboard from the side of the road. The bedside table replaced an old box that I had been using, and the other two have become little information hubs for my husband and I.

What I’m trying to say is that free stuff can truly be helpful and add value to your life.

It’s just the trap of thinking that “free” means that it comes with zero strings attached. It’s up to you to weigh the options.

And most importantly, it’s up to you to decide when the item no longer belongs in your life – just because it was free doesn’t mean you have to keep it “just in case.” I’ve spent so much of my time, space, and energy on free stuff over the years that hardly any of it was truly worth it.

What’s your best free find, and what’s your worst?

Simple Dorm Living (What I Wish I Knew)

This week marks seven years since I moved out of my parents home and into a lovely little dorm room in Bloomington, Indiana.

We packed a giant SUV to the brim with all my “necessities” and before I knew it, they were driving away without all the stuff and without me. Dorm life had officially begun.

I was so excited. But I was way, way overprepared.

To the point that I didn’t even know what to do with half the stuff I bought because Target told me it was a dorm essential! I ended up carrying a lot of that junk around with me, unused, for the next 5 years.

Since a lot of students are moving in this next week, I thought I’d share what I would do differently if I had the chance.

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Pare down before and after

Packing up a childhood bedroom to move away for college is a perfect time to ditch some of the stuff you don’t need.

Here’s what mine looked like when packing up:

Room Before Dorm Move Out

Actually, this is what my bedroom looked like most of the time anyways.

Keep a trash and donate bag handy when you’re sorting through everything. Don’t just put things back into storage because it’s your parents house and you think you don’t have to deal with it. Trust me, you’ll have to deal with it eventually.

Then, when you’re unpacking at your new space, don’t be afraid to toss things into a donate or trash pile. Especially when you start to realize that you’ve just brought way too much.

Don’t shop beforehand

I know this sounds crazy. But when I got to my dorm room, I realized it had more than I anticipated – it came furnished with a chair already, so why did I need the butterfly chair?

Dorm Desk in Read

I ended up with “dorm essentials” that really didn’t even fit with my dorm room.

So do only the bare minimum of shopping beforehand – I’m talking notebooks and pens at most. If you can swing it, shop a few days or a week after you move in so that you can make more conscious decisions about what you really need.

Don’t have a car? Dorms should accept packages for you, so online shopping is a great option (and you get to avoid all of the tempting ads for “dorm essentials” at your local Target).

This is especially important for storage. Don’t shop early for the “just in case” items. Instead, get a good feeling for what you’ll need storage for and where it will fit.

Finally, this gives you a chance to find out more about the building you live in – do you need a full set of dishes and a mini fridge, or do you have access to good dining halls?

Basically, don’t just buy stuff because a store says you’ll need it.

Dorm decor

I was kind of a mess when it came to decorating my dorm room. I just brought a bunch of stuff and taped it to the wall like a maniac.

It stressed me out and it didn’t look very good. Did I ever tell you guys that I wanted to study Fashion Design? Yea, that was a weird time.

So, I encourage anyone moving into a dorm room to keep it simple.

Start small. Bring only decorations that you find beautiful or meaningful. Let yourself get a feel for your dorm room before you just throw stuff on the walls for the sake of having stuff on the walls.

Avoid the campus bookstore

As a former campus bookstore employee, I can tell you this: it’s all overpriced. Look online for used versions of your book and don’t be afraid to ask your professor if you can use a slightly older version. You will literally save hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

If you’re not sure about whether or not you’ll stay in the class, wait on buying the book until after the first week.

Do not buy school supplies at the bookstore unless you’re really in a bind. They’re marked up way past what’s even remotely reasonable.

And finally – I know I’m going to sound like such a Debbie Downer – avoid school-branded swag. Shirts, tumblers, bags…slap a school logo on it and it’s 3x more expensive.

I accumulated so much IU stuff through clubs and free giveaways anyway that I still looked like I had school spirit.

Hoo – hoo – hoo – HOOSIERS!

If you’re moving: how are you handling it? If you’ve done it before: what do you wish you would have done differently?