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!


Integrating Long Term Goals into Daily Planning

Today’s post is a guest post by Declan Wilson of Millennial Type. I’ve been following Declan for over a year, and I am excited to share a bit of his work with you. Be sure to check out his blog and give him a follow if you’re the self-improvement type!


We tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish in a day, but underestimate how much we can accomplish in a year.

In a year you can take a significant step closer toward your dream. A year ago I was a nobody on the internet. Today, I have a book set to release June 22nd, I’ve grown my blog and Twitter following significantly, and I was offered a side job at a startup. Did I mention I did all of this with a newborn?

On any given day I drop my son off at daycare, go to work, cook dinner, run errands, get my son to bed, and relax with my wife. In the small margins of my day I utilize my time to write, create, and connect. Sometimes this means sacrificing sleep.

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Some days I feel like super dad/husband/creative. Other days I can hardly get anything done. When people ask how I seem to have more time now than before the baby, I give them the same answer Emily does:

“I don’t have any more hours in the day now than I did three years ago. None of us do.”

I don’t have less time now that I’m a dad, I just have to be more intentional with the time available. Especially when it comes to the daunting task of chasing my dream of self-employment.

So even with a solid practice of daily planning, how does one map out her longer term BIG goals?

Easy, follow the 5x5x5 rule: set a baseline goal this year and scale it by a factor of 5 for the next three years.

When I set my goals at the beginning of last year, I aimed too low. I wanted to hit 100 subscribers on my blog (I started with 17) thinking my potential to attract new readers was low. I hit my goal a few short months later.

We are often afraid of big goals because they seem insurmountable. The same applies to chasing our dream. We neglect them or give up because they seem so far out of reach.

That’s what makes the 5x5x5 rule an attractive option – the ability to take small steps, develop habits, then scale after a year.

Using my blog subscribers goal as an example, I gained (drum roll please) 165 subscribers in 2015. That’s why for 2016 I set a goal to earn another 825. Currently I’m well behind my goal-pace, but it’s okay, I’m learning and reiterating as I go along this year. I’d rather fall short of reaching 825 than setting my goal too low and attaining it too easily.

I chunked the 825 into a monthly goal of 68 new subscribers and to a daily goal of 2 to 3 (much more manageable). I then set up daily and weekly processes and habits to help me reach these goals.

When 2017 rolls around, I’ll increase my goal by another factor of 5. I’ll do the same in 2018. After 3 years of this process, I’ll be close to reaching my dream of 5,000 subscribers (which will help me launch my own self-employment gig).

When I think about trying to hit 5,000 subscribers, the quiet doubts in the back of my head begin to raise their voices. But I drown them out by taking it one day at a time.

No matter how insurmountable your goal may appear, no matter how much “lack of time” you seem to have, being intentional with your daily actions will lead to a larger return in the long run.

To review, you can integrate long term goals into your daily planning practice by:

1. Writing out a handful of BIG goals for the year
2. Chunking them into smaller monthly and weekly goals
3. Creating a daily habit to accomplish small chunks
4. Reviewing progress and adjusting accordingly
5. Scaling by a factor of 5 and repeating for another year

Keep Stepping Forward!


Declan Wilson is a writer and blogger with a full-time job on the side. He writes at millennialtype.com where he helps Millennials live the life they desire, create the things that matter, persevere over the impossible, and dream of a better future.

His first book, The Millennial Way, is set to launch June 22, 2016. Snag a copy today.

Simple Daily Planning

In my last post, I discussed how living a simple life can get complicated and that planning was essential to keep it all organized.

So today I want to give you a peek into my daily planning process!

I’ve tried planners, phone calendars, white boards, you name it. My favorite planning tool so far? A notebook and colorful pens (colors are optional – it just makes it more fun for me).

Tools aren’t for everyone

Before I dive in, it’s important to note that tools are definitely good for some people, and they are definitely bad for others. For example, I can’t get into tools that are online or on mobile devices because there are infinite ways to get distracted.

I’ve also been working on getting into daily planners (my current one breaks each day down hour by hour and has space to prioritize goals). I start the day neatly, but I end up just writing all over them without actually putting anything where it’s supposed to be.

So don’t feel compelled to use a certain tool if you’re just not into it – work with yourself, not against yourself.

Make it a pleasant habit

Don’t force planning if you’re not feeling it. Allow yourself time to get into a good headspace before you start breaking down your day, or else you’ll over- or under-whelm yourself with to-dos.

I like to wait until I’ve had some breakfast and have a fresh cup of coffee poured before I even consider planning.

I broke down and bought an unnecessary package of colorful pens for that same reason – I wanted to make this a fun process, not a frustrating one. I take my time and practice my cursive (am I the only one who still loves handwriting?)

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Keep it organized and don’t overdo it

I start by listing the date (mostly just for fun), then I break my to-do list down into sections. I’m focusing on creating a balance for myself this year, so I break it down into home, work, and personal categories.

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As much as possible, I keep it to about three items per section. Work, of course, is my work goals for the day. Personal is where I put blogging, self-care, exercise, etc. Home is for housework – usually something to do with cleaning the rabbit’s cage, cooking meals, or soaking beans.

The goal for your goals is to be able to complete them all in a days time. So don’t set a full day’s worth of goals for home while also setting a full day’s worth of goals for work.

I’m starting to get into the practice of trimming the list down after I’ve made it, just so that I can be sure to complete everything. There’s nothing worse than seeing a list with only one thing crossed off of it at the end of the day.

First things first

Once you’re done with your planning, check if there’s anything you can do in a few minutes. Clearing clutter or tossing dishes into the dishwasher is usually an easy first step.

If I’ve made “read twenty pages” a goal for the day and I haven’t yet finished my coffee, I’ll pull my book out and get to work. Basically, if there’s anything easy or that fits your current situation on your list, do that first.

I’ve also started to shift the order of my planning & processing of the day’s to-dos. Instead of getting work and home stuff out of the way first, I focus on the personal category. Why?

Because that’s always the category that doesn’t get crossed off. So be kind to yourself and try to do what you can for yourself before everything else, and you’ll feel a lot more positive energy to do the rest of it.

So there’s a look at how I plan my day! Do you have a planning habit?

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?

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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.