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?

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?

Cheap Food February: Week 2

I’m going to be honest: I forgot to save my receipts and track exactly what I got this past week.

But I do know that I made it in around the $70 mark! I’ve got next week’s receipt sitting beside me as I type this, and I’m going to keep track this time for sure.

Before I dive into specifics (as best as I can), I can tell you one very important thing we’ve learned so far: staying stocked on the essentials is, well, essential.

Staying stocked up and a confession

Our existing stock has helped us get further into this month than I had anticipated, but it’s starting to run out. Specifically flour, oats, honey, peanut butter and jalapeno sauce (you may laugh, but we usually have a few bottles on hand since we use it all the time).

Staying stocked up may sound counter-intuitive to a minimalist lifestyle, but I learned a practical tip from an old friend: use your dry ingredients as decorations.

Decorate your kitchen, your bookshelves, the top of your cupboards – anywhere you want – with ball jars of dry ingredients. It looks lovely, saves on decor costs, and you always have things like flour, oats, and beans on hand.

Ball Jars Dry Goods

Now for the confession: for the purpose of this experiment, I’ve been taking the cost of most stock-up supplies out of my weekly calculations. Since we have been using tons of rice and beans, those are all included in my calculations.

I’d estimate it adds up to an extra $20 or so each month for things that will stretch past one or two meals – flour, peanut butter, honey, sauces, tea. But when I need these things, I try to get bulk or sale as much as I can.

Our grocery list for week two

So here’s what we got! Remember, this is a rough estimate (especially when it comes to bulk items). I only know that we stayed around $70.

  • 1 lb chickpeas
  • 1 lb black beans
  • 1 lb white rice (wanted brown, but it was out of stock)
  • 2 bunches of kale (most of which went to the rabbits)
  • 2 bags frozen corn
  • 10 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 lb jar of minced garlic
  • 6 zucchini squashes
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 4 bags frozen brussel sprouts
  • 4 bags frozen cauliflower florets
  • 5 lbs carrots
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 bags frozen spinach
  • 1 bunch bananas
  • 24 oz honey
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 lbs red onions
  • 8 burrito-sized tortillas
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella

Looking at it now, that’s a ton of food! We save by getting frozen veggies, dry goods and very few processed foods. We had a hankering for bean burritos, hence the tortillas and cheese. I only get cheese once every couple of months or so, because it’s expensive, not highly nutritious and I also tend to eat it straight out of the bag until it’s gone.

Some of our favorite meals

I was able to do a lot with this haul. We drank smoothies every day, and I was able to make some amazing granola bars from the Minimalist Baker. They’re my absolute favorite, and I throw in any additional seeds or nuts I have available for an extra boost. If you don’t already love Minimalist Baker, I recommend them for simple, delicious recipe inspiration.

I made burritos with these restaurant-style black beans. I threw in rice, beans, frozen corn, red pepper, homemade salsa, mozzarella and some lettuce. I wrapped and kept them individually in foil so they stayed together when I reheated them as leftovers.

Burritos in foil

I tossed the rest of the homemade salsa (a random mix of onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos) into rice as a substitute for some of the liquid, cooked it up and topped it with a poached egg for another evening.

We also had this vegan black bean soup, which was ah-may-zing over rice and also over zucchini noodles.

Roasted chickpeas are an addictive snack if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to chips. You can even make a honey version for when that sweet tooth comes on strong. For the adventurous, save the water you cook your chickpeas in (which is actually called aquafaba) – you can make vegan chocolate mousse with it.

There you have it! Week two, in the bag. Look forward to our notes on week three sometime next weekend. Week three’s goal is $65, and we’ve already spent $53 in preparation. Wish us luck.

Holiday Blues

It’s that time of year: family visits, twinkling lights, coffee & cocoa, and all sorts of schedule disruptions.

I’ve been feeling a little scrooge-y this holiday season, as you may have guessed by my absence recently. Trying to wrap up (heh, Christmas pun) the year, figure out presents (since for the first time ever, we won’t be present) and keep a regular daily work schedule has worn me out.

Holiday BluesFor anyone else out there who’s trying to keep it simple and finding it difficult: I am too. Trying to fight the commercial holiday stress brings its own stresses.

So, today’s post is as much for me as it is for you.

Keeping the holidays merry and bright

These can be applied year-round, but are always my must-haves in times of stress. Here is what I’m going to be focusing on this next month, since I’ve overlooked these for the past few weeks.

Eliminate the nonessential

Are there things you think you need to do, but that you really don’t want to do? Consider each commitment carefully and respect your time enough to say no when you feel that’s the best option.

Going with the flow can turn into getting carried away in the current, and Christmas isn’t about trying to avoid rapids and sharp rocks. Keep the holidays on your terms.

Eat, drink and be healthy

Hangovers in college were terrible. Hangovers after college are the worst – every emotion comes flooding out and piles on top of an unproductive day. Add in the holidays and…well, it’s not pretty.

If this applies to you, find the least emotionally-wrecking booze for you and drink moderately. Me + wine = sadness, so I try to steer clear of it.

But this doesn’t just apply to alcohol – eat your veggies any chance you get. I toss back a veggie-heavy smoothie or two every day to make sure I get my greens.

Progress, not perfection

This is something I see shared around the fitness community, and I find it powerfully relevant in all aspects of life. Especially as this year comes to an end.

A dear friend of mine understands the workings of my mind, and advised me to take a moment and write down all the things I have accomplished or improved upon this year. If you try this too, be generous with yourself and note that any progress is positive.

This helps me put 2015 into perspective and encourages a positive attitude for the start of 2016.

And a note on perfection: don’t let the stress of creating a perfect holiday or finding the perfect gift ruin your time with family and friends.

Kindness is key

Being kind to others goes without saying, but especially remember to be kind to yourself.

Be patient with yourself when you stray from the path you wanted to follow. Be kind to yourself so you can flourish. Allow yourself a few moments of solitude, or extra minutes of sleeping in, or skip a chore and go for a walk instead.

Or, if you’re in an area that has Stumptown Coffee, grab a little Winter Cheer. You won’t regret it.

Holiday Blues Coffee

Winter Cheer cold brew from Stumptown is actually all I want for Christmas.

So take a moment to check in on yourself: how are you doing?

If you’re struggling, pay attention to where the balance has shifted. What can you do to restore your joy this holiday season?

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!

Junk in the Trunk (and the Drawers and Bins)

Junk drawers. They’re like Lay’s potato chips – you can’t have just one!

They’re under our beds, in our kitchens, our offices, bathrooms, you name it – there’s probably a junk drawer there.

The number and type of junk drawer that we have says a lot about us – mine make me look like a just-in-case fanatic.

Last year, I counted at least three bins that I considered “junk drawers” in my apartment, mostly filled with half-blank pieces of paper for later use. I’d been carrying all this crap around for years without knowing it.

Drawers and storage solutions are perfect for intentional storage. But they can be dangerous too – we leave things hidden for so long that we start to forget what we own and why we own it.

A peek inside my junk drawers

When we moved seven months ago, I avoided storage specifically because I don’t want to go back to having multiple junk drawers. But junk drawers always find a way, don’t they?

We have a little built-in vanity and dresser area near our bathroom and we quickly made use of two tiny drawers to fill with everything that didn’t have a home.

IKEA happened, and we got more little booklets and pseudo-tools to add in. Soon, I could hardly open the drawers anymore because they were stuffed with God knows what.

Here’s a look at our junk:

Junk Drawers

I separated our drawers into one for my husband and one for me – before it was anyone’s guess as to whether or not there was any kind of organization.

How to tackle junk drawers without going crazy

As you can see, my junk drawers are very small. However, they really were the start of something much bigger and I wanted to bring them back to a manageable size before they got out of hand.

Start by identifying the offending storage pieces around your house. I would define a junk drawer as any drawer that has three or more different types of things – say tools, pens and playing cards or toys, rubber bands and electrical tape.

Before you get started cleaning them out, there are two things you should know:

  1. Know that you can’t get rid of them completely. Honestly, I think having one dedicated drawer to miscellaneous items is useful. Especially when trying to keep surfaces clear of clutter around the house.
  2. Know that all drawers should not be junk drawers. Don’t let this mentality creep beyond one drawer in your household. Be intentional with your junk and give it a nice home.

Once you’ve identified the drawers, take everything out of them and sort them into piles:

  • Trash
  • Not in use (think of The Minimalists 20/20 rule)
  • Like with like (all tape stays together!)
  • Redistribution pile (junk that needs to go to another part of the house)

What’s most important is to keep all like items together. If you have a designated place for paperwork elsewhere, then why is your utility bill in the junk drawer?

Return things to their rightful homes. When you’re done, take a look at what’s left.

Are there duplicates? If you have more pens than you could use in a lifetime, get rid of them. Toss anything that is broken, about to break, or that you just don’t use.

When you go to put everything back in, you should have significantly less. Put things in as orderly as you can so you can see everything easily and the drawer closes without putting up a fight.

Why bother with junk drawers?

First, the obvious – you don’t need to be carrying around literal useless junk whenever you move.

But there’s more to it than that. I’m guessing that you visit your junk drawers just often enough to get frustrated with them. I know when I opened my drawers to find something, it would stress me out. Not a lot, but enough to warrant a good cleaning.

If there’s a drawer that stresses you out even a little bit when you open it, it’s time to rethink it. There’s no reason for these little things to add stress to our lives.

What’s in your junk drawers?