Our DIY Christmas Candles

This year, as usual, I wanted to go the handmade route for Christmas. But there’s only so many crochet scarves you can give people (who, in fact, don’t end up wearing them). I also wanted to make sure that our Christmas gifts to our families were in alignment with our values of simplicity.

I already shared what we did for the younger members of our family, but what about for all of the grown-ups? We’ve been through a lot this year, and really want to make sure everyone knows we are appreciative of their help during wedding season without breaking the budget too terribly.

Don’t read below this line if you’re a family member

Or at least until Christmas. Actually, if you’re family and you’re reading this, thank you and please read on. It means a lot that you’re even visiting my blog.

We decided to go with candlemaking this year! We’ve never done it, but it sounded like so much fun and candles are so lovely to have on hand. Plus, they’re consumable. Check out the mess we made (it turns out we had way more wax than we needed, so we made every extra jar and cup we had into candles as well):

Candlemaking Mess

Overall, we made 18 candles for a little over $3 each (some are gigantic and will burn for hours and hours). Here’s what we used:

  • Soy wax from Amazon ($26)
  • Wicks from Amazon ($9)
  • Lemon sugar cookie melting wax from Joann Fabrics ($7)
  • 8-ounce jam jars from Target ($9)
  • An old pot from Goodwill ($4)

Since I’m not an expert, I won’t walk you through our process. It was pretty haphazard, and I did a lot of guessing on the temperatures since we don’t have a candy or meat thermometer. Here’s the video I watched to get an idea of what to do.

The whole package

We’re also going to include a bottle of wine as well for each member of our family. Since there’s no Trader Joe’s back home, we have the advantage of being “the cool relatives who buy wine from Trader Joe’s” (eh, it’s not that impressive now that I think about it).

For the one person who wouldn’t really care for a candle or wine, I’ll be making a custom embroidered baseball cap! We’re six days away from Christmas, so we’ll see if I can complete it before then.

But the candles turned out great! I’m so excited to share these with our family members, and any flaws will be extra special since they’re homemade.

Christmas candles

The final perk

Yes, there’s more. The unexpected bonus of this is having several extra candles for spontaneous gift exchanges and, let’s be honest, to take to California with us. They’re usually an expensive luxury, so it’ll be nice to have a few for ourselves!

Christmas candle

Christmas is drawing near. What is your gifting strategy this year?

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Can a Minimalist Have Hobbies?

The answer, before I give you my reasons and ramblings, is yes. A minimalist can darn well do what a minimalist wants to do as long as it fits in with the lifestyle they’ve been designing. As always, to each his own – there’s not just one type of minimalism.

Minimalist Hobbies

When I made the decision to work from home, I also made the decision to allow way more time into my life for – gasp – things that I actually love to do. It seemed like a foreign concept at the time, but now my projects have taken off faster than I can keep up. Crocheting is my weapon of choice – yours may be woodworking or coding or writing or cooking. Or llama raising, that too.

I did realize that my massive amounts of yarn and growing pile of completed projects has started to take up a significant amount of space. I’ve downsized my craft supplies multiple times, but I still seem to find balls of yarn randomly tucked into places I wouldn’t expect.

So how does that work? What if my hobby requires that I have stuff to make stuff? And what do I do with that stuff when it’s done?

My Minimalist Hobby Mantra

One in, one out.

Right now, I’m using up all my existing yarn and crocheting like the wind so that eventually I’ll have one project to work on at a time, with minimal supplies on hand. That’ll keep me focused and it will keep my husband sane when we move to a tiny apartment (did I mention that the one I have my eye on is 330 square feet?)

What that also means is that I need to start getting rid of some of my many crochet projects. I’ll be populating my Etsy store soon with some of my most magical creations and selling/giving/donating to family and friends throughout the holiday season.

Balancing Your Hobby and Your Lifestyle

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself if your hobby can reasonably fit your lifestyle. If not, what are you willing to change about one or both of them to make sure you can stay balanced?

For someone looking to live a simpler life, I’d recommend taking the following considerations:

  1. Is this truly something that adds richness and value to your life? If it’s a once-a-year rediscovery, it might be time to put it to rest. If you want to get better, make the commitment to truly learning it and honing your craft!
  2. How can you simplify this hobby to include less gadgets, materials or other accessories that go unused for large portions of time?
  3. What should your focus be on at this very moment? Get rid of or finish additional projects so you can maintain focus (yes, I did say “get rid of” – I’ve been discarding years-in-the-making projects that I knew wouldn’t ever be completed, and it’s actually a huge relief).

So three things: consider, simplify, focus. 

What About Multiple Hobbies?

I used to think I wanted to sew, knit, crochet, write, spin yarn, design clothing and make my own cheese. But I’ve cut it down to something more manageable – crocheting and writing. I can still dabble in the other things, but I decided to refocus on the two that I really wanted and that I felt brought that richness to my life.

However, if you want to focus on three or four hobbies, don’t try to do them all at once. A tip I learned from The Accidental Creative (awesome site and great book, by the way) is to schedule out what you want to focus on, much like semesters in an academic calendar. Every three months, you switch to a new focus (this can be for learning new things or can be adapted to suit your hobbies).

I know Tammy Strobel‘s love of photography suits her tiny house living perfectly, and many other minimalists focus in on writing as their main hobby/career path.

What is your go-to hobby, and how have you integrated it into your lifestyle?

Adjusting the Tension

This past weekend I pulled my sewing machine out from my greatly diminished craft chest and wondered why I hadn’t gotten rid of it along with my other supplies. I haven’t sewn since high school – the summer before college, I discovered everything I sewed started to look like a manic episode with an etch-a-sketch.

The bottom half of the thread would bunch up into unmanageable bundles and soon the machine would stop moving forward. I gave up on my machine, and away it went. For years.

And when I got it back out this weekend, the machine and the thread still bunched, and it still jammed up. Only this time I actually stopped to think about why it was happening.

Pillowcase

A five-minute YouTube video taught me that it was a matter of tension. I had never adjusted the bobbin (bottom thread) tension, and to adjust the top tension I often just turned the dial to a random, sounds-good-to-me number.

So, I adjusted the tension the right way. And it worked.

After that, I sailed through the pillowcase project that’s been on my mind for weeks. I found myself immersed in a hobby I had forgotten so long ago, and rode a creative high for the rest of the weekend. I felt energized and encouraged by nothing more than a simple, beautiful clean stitch.

Good tension and bad tension

I realized that to get those straight stitches I had to add just enough tension to make it right – note that there’s still some tension needed.

To keep balanced we all need to find the right level of tension, and I think many of us, young and old, stretch ourselves too far and wind ourselves up too tightly. We pack our schedules just so we can feel busy and important, without stopping to focus on what’s actually important (the link, by the way, is a must-read).

So, what’s bad tension?

  • Credit card debt
  • A cluttered home
  • Procrastination
  • A hostile work environment
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Overflowing schedule

And what’s good?

  • Reasonable deadlines (and less procrastination)
  • Structured, well thought-out goals
  • A daily habit – such as journaling, reading, or even flossing
  • Healthy competition (I love this one – just careful to not overdo it)
  • Spending uninterrupted, focused time with loved ones

These seem obvious, but so many nuances lie between them that sometimes it’s easy to mistake bad tension as acceptable and healthy. It’s even easy to see the positive tension as overwhelming when we’re already stretched to our limits.

So next time you’re feeling tangled up and close to a complete shutdown, stop and examine the tensions you currently have in your life. Write them down – both home and work tensions – and carefully consider each one. Is it necessary? Can it be adjusted?

Ease up on some of the bad tensions, and put a little more stress on what’s healthy and important. You’ll come away with the beautiful feeling that everything is back in it’s proper place.

 

 

Crafting Clutter: Giving Up Supplies

Many of my Millennial friends have jumped wholeheartedly aboard the DIY train, and seem to pump out projects like it’s their full time job (which, hopefully for them, it will be someday). I like to think I’m that kind of person, too. But I’m not.

In reality, I have a queen-sized white afghan that still needs a lacy border (winter is coming), an incomplete weird pillowcase-thing (what was I thinking?), a chevron baby blanket that’s 1/4 of the way complete, and another blanket that I ran out of yarn while crocheting (only to find out that the color & style of yarn I was using has been discontinued). Not to mention the countless other small projects that I told myself I’d do or redo, and the Etsy shop that I had for a couple of months but then got rid of because I couldn’t find a niche.

What I’m trying to say is that many of us have so many “someday” projects, and that I’ve finally decided to let go. Without further ado, I give you a glimpse into my crafting supply madness:

craft clutter 2

Mostly linens, but seriously?

craft clutter

After taking a look at everything in one place, I decided enough was enough. Here’s just a small fraction of what I had.

My craft supplies took up two underbed storage units, one GIANT plastic tub, and the entirety of a wicker chest in my bedroom. For someone who’s all about simplifying her life, this was sobering. I told myself, when I first started on this journey, that I was going to disregard all crafting supplies – after all, they promote creativity, right? Wrong. They’re a pain, and I’ve had enough.

So what does a crafting hoarder do with yarn she’s had since she first started crocheting 13 years ago? She bundles it up and gives it away. Here are some tips:

  • If it’s completely useless, don’t bother donating it. That being said, if it’s also small enough and can be useful for scraps later on, tuck it away into a bag of scraps. If it’s entirely pointless? Toss it.
  • Know what you’ll use, and be honest about what you won’t. I have a sewing machine, so that means I’m a quilter and a seamstress right? Nope. The last dress I sewed for myself fell apart while I was wearing it. I said goodbye to most of my fabric (kept anything pink or green that would be useful for my wedding), and organized it into nice “scrap bags” before putting it in the Goodwill pile. I kept my sewing machine, but I have a feeling that might not make it through the next year or two.
  • ORGANIZE. Seriously. Have well-defined trash, keep, and donate piles and make sure that nothing goes back in to storage or gets donated without being grouped and bagged up – it will save you, and the people who have to sort through your donation.

After an afternoon of fighting myself for which supplies to keep, I organized 4 storage units into one:

wicker chest

All of my craft supplies (and some linens) are now in this ONE chest

What a relief! It’s been bothering me for months, and now I have 3 new storage units available for my most epic craft project yet: making all my wedding flowers. It’s going well! I have nine made already. Only like a thousand to go. But they look great!

For all my DIY-ers: keep it up. You inspire me to create every day, so don’t change. But you may consider making your life a bit easier by decluttering and donating some of your craft supplies. It will free up your mind and your home to do more of what you really love to do.