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 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?

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?

When You Can’t Do It All

Here’s my new mantra:

If you can’t do it all, do a little.

It’s the most simple remedy for overwhelm I’ve discovered yet. I’m a person who falls into the cycle of want big things -> make big plans -> start -> no immediate results -> discouragement -> burnout.

It’s a damaging cycle that I see a lot of peers experiencing. And each time you start on a new big idea, it’s with a little less enthusiasm than the one before.

That’s why I’ve adopted this mantra.

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Photograph 059 by Ashley Schweitzer found on minimography.com

What is “doing it all”?

“Doing it all” is completing a project. It’s reaching a certain goal or life milestone, or mastering a new hobby. It’s completing every task on your to-do list.

In short, it’s reaching any point of completion.

So when you can’t do it all, that means you’re left with a feeling of incompleteness – perhaps of failure. This is where my self-kindness crusade begins.

Because I know that when I can’t “do it all” I often revert to doing nothing at all.

What is “doing a little”?

I’m so excited about this perspective: take one step to get closer to your goal. Or even a half-step.

Can’t clean the whole apartment? Just put the clean towels away. Just vacuum the hay that the rabbits have managed to spread out over most of your rug.

This approach has actually helped me become more productive. I’ll piece things together in moments between other activities, and soon I find myself riding the momentum into the evening: clean apartment, rabbits fed, tea made, lunch packed.

A little kindness goes a long way

I’ve raved about the importance of self-kindness and awareness before, but I simply can’t stress it enough. I’ve spent too many years expecting too much from myself, so I’m making up for it now with self compassion whenever I can.

By telling yourself in the most overwhelming hours that it’s okay to do just a little instead of doing it all, you’re giving yourself permission to be kind to yourself.

And by focusing on progress instead of completion, we’ll feel more accomplished along the way instead of just at the end of the hectic journey.

Where to start

My challenge to you: take a moment to think about what you want right now. I actually sat down and wrote out a long list of things (physical, mental, emotional) I wanted right now.

If you want to be a blogger but find the idea so overwhelming that you still haven’t started, just do this: grab any piece of paper, any writing utensil, and jot down three posts you’d like to write. Do the same thing if you want to read more – list three books you’d like to read.

There. You are one step closer to your goal.

I know it sounds simplistic, but this practice has really helped me make some progress on projects or hobbies that have felt stagnant.

I’ve written blog post titles instead of full posts, ran 1/3 of a mile instead of 2, put just one cup in the dishwasher instead of all the dishes in the sink. And eventually, by taking little, kind steps, all of my tasks were complete.

What is the one thing you can do today to make progress on the goals that are overwhelming you?

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!

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.