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?

Simple Isn't Always Easy

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.

Planner

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.

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Cheap Food February

We made it through the first week of February! I’m still reeling from the fact that it’s even 2016…but time marches on, whether we’re ready or not.

Like I said in an earlier post, we’re going to explore different monthly challenges. This month was going to be vegan month, but it came up so quickly and our budget wasn’t quite ready for all the vegan exploring we wanted to do.

So naturally, we came up with Cheap Food February.

Cheap Food February

What we mean by cheap food

I don’t mean that we’re going to eat dollar-menu takeout every day. I also don’t mean that we’re going to be eating Instant Ramen or macaroni and cheese.

The goal for the month is to fill up on healthy, inexpensive foods like beans, potatoes, eggs, rice, frozen and fresh veggies, and certain fruits. We’ll be eating chicken occasionally, but since I’m not a big fan, it will probably be once every week or two.

We’re exploring new recipes and planning carefully to avoid food waste.

How much are we going to spend?

A middle-of-the road food budget for two is around $550. I think there have been months where we get close to that, but typically we’re under $450. It can be difficult to determine exactly because the bunnies cost us around $50 in fresh veggies each month, and we often share their kale, parsley, and cilantro.

For the first week, we planned to spend $80. We have spent $68.41, but we’ve also had a lot of dry ingredients and leftovers from last week that have helped keep it low.

For the next three weeks, we’re going to vary our costs:

  • Week Two: $70
  • Week Three: $65
  • Week Four: $60

None of these will include rabbit food expenses or booze expenses. We’re only planning on going out for food once (maybe for my birthday on the 18th, but I actually might prefer to stay in and cook).

Also worth noting: we are using cash only for groceries so that we can keep a good tally of what we’re spending and to avoid going over our budget. It’s new for me, since I’m surprisingly not a very mindful grocery shopper.

What we ate this week

So, what did we buy with our $68.41?

  • Kroger brand olive oil
  • 4 packages of frozen cauliflower
  • 4 packages of frozen brussels sprouts
  • 2 lbs zucchini
  • 4.5 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 5 lbs golden potatoes
  • 1.5 lbs on-the-vine tomatoes
  • 1.25 lbs leeks
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 gallon coconut milk
  • 2 lbs chicken breast
  • 2 cans mixed beans
  • 2 cans organic crushed tomatoes

We didn’t need rice, oats, eggs or any spices this week – that’s the key to this. Stock up on bulk dry goods and spices when you can, then you can eat kingly foods on a meager budget.

I could have saved a bit more by just buying bulk dry beans instead of the canned ones, but I didn’t get my act together in time to soak and cook them before dinner.

Here’s what we’ve made and links to the recipes we used:

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Super simple mixed bean chili

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Roasted veggies are my life

I also made a couple of egg and rice dishes to get through ingredients before they went bad, but no recipes worth sharing.

We supplemented everything with green smoothies made from frozen spinach and fruit that we had on hand.

Next week will be more interesting because we’re running low on existing supplies! Plus, I want to add in a few more raw things like salads and more spiralized goodness (we just got a spiralizer with my husband’s birthday money, and it was well spent).

What are your favorite healthy, inexpensive recipes?

Real Real Simple

I’ve always been fascinated by magazines. Something about the editorials alongside brilliantly colorful ads and the smell of the perfume samples really gets to me.

But of course, the temptation to buy is there, and it’s strong. And a few years I realized the ultimate irony: Real Simple is filled with tempting products that claim to offer a more simple life. But there’s so rarely a case for more when it comes to our quest for less.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the magazine, but take a moment to flip through the pages or webpages and you’ll see ads and product recommendations – quite the opposite of what it takes to really live a simplified life.

So I’ve been brainstorming what that might actually look like.

Real Real Simple: Tips for living a truly simplified life

My tips for a real, real simple life

  • Work. If you love it, stay. If you don’t, get out of there. I’ve seen too many Millennials (and older) hang on to jobs with excuses about money and the job search is hard…if you really want to make a change, then change. If you’re miserable and unwilling to try to make a change, then that lies on you. Complaining will get you nowhere, but some research and effort might take you further than you’d ever think.
  • Food. Forget learning how to read labels. Learn how to shop for (and cook!) meals made from things without packaging: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A diet like that isn’t terribly expensive or time consuming – in fact, the extra love you put in now will save you health care costs in the future. The closer you get to the natural state of the food, the better. (Also, I don’t really subscribe to one particular diet, but I’ve found that veggie-heavy and very few animal products works well for me).
  • Relationships. Put your people into three buckets based on the energy they bring to your life: positive, neutral, and negative. Start spending more time with the positives and spend less with the negative and neutral people. Being aware of how they impact your life is a strong first step in curating your relationships – and more meaningful relationships will benefit everyone, not just you.
  • Stuff. Declutter before organizing every time. If you’re overwhelmed with your stuff, getting new storage bins is just a temporary solution to a larger, more permanent problem. You don’t have to get rid of it all at once, but edit when you can. Keep your stuff only if it’s useful or beautiful to you.
  • Exercise. You don’t need a plan – just get outside and take a walk. Switch out coffee dates for walking dates. Bike to work. Do pushups or situps while you’re watching Netflix. I think, for me especially, it’s easy to get in our heads about doing something good for our bodies. We can’t expect to run a marathon on our first day, and we can’t even expect to feel like working out everyday. But what is most important is making the time to do one thing for your body every day. I love this advice: make it a goal to get your shoes on and get out the door. What comes next is up to you, but at least you’ve accomplished that first step.
  • Finances. Track your spending, then make a budget. Awareness is the first step! This ties in with almost every other point I’ve mentioned. Stick with whole, healthy bulk foods, find free ways to get fit and socialize, and don’t buy it if you don’t need it. If you really love something and want to get it – give it some time, research it, and think about where it fits in to your life. I usually give myself at least a month to really know that it’s something important to me before taking the plunge.

My golden rule of simplicity

The most simple, real thing I believe we can do that has a lasting impact is this: be kind to yourself.

I know this sounds a little cliche and/or silly, but I really believe that finding the right balance of motivation and self-care has profound effects on our lives and the lives of those around us. Are you any good when you’ve neglected your most basic needs (like a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal)?

In the real simple world of managing time, clutter, relationships and more, that’s the big factor that we’re missing. If we’re not meeting our basic needs, everything else gets a lot more complicated.

What’s your golden rule for simplicity?

Simple, Real Eating

This post is not about how to use fewer pots or less ingredients. This post is not about fast, easy ways to feed a family on the go.

This post is about taking back real food and re-learning the joy of cooking. It’s about taking simple ingredients and turning them into something healthy and magical. Yes, magical.

I just finished devouring a bowl of stir fry made from all fresh vegetables over rice. Broccoli, green onions, cauliflower, cabbage, red pepper, carrots all lightly cooked with some cashews tossed in – sounds complicated, right? Not at all. It was as easy as throwing all of those ingredients into my wok.

Simple Stir Fry

How minimalism has affected my diet

Since I began simplifying my life a couple of years ago, my diet has changed too.

I used to eat simply in a different way: spaghetti and marinara sauce was my go-to meal for most meals. I was always tired, always grumpy. But then I started learning more and watching food documentaries.

It started with buying only organic mac and cheese and whole wheat pasta. Then I discovered organic canned vegetables and how simple those could be. I discovered organic soy milk and ate that with organic cereal.

Those cans and boxes were technically simple, but they weren’t the basics. As I’ve explored going back to basics in many aspects of my life, my food choices are following the same pattern. By basic food, I mean I choose the groceries with the fewest ingredients (want an easy tip? Fruits and veggies are only one ingredient).

I’ve been hanging out in the produce section a lot more and can regularly be seen carrying my shopping bags with giant greens sticking out of them.

My diet has become more complex, but it’s because I tend to eat whole, simple/basic foods in new and endless combinations.

But I don’t like vegetables

There are hundreds of excuses to not eat right: I don’t have the time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t have the right kitchen supplies…

But if you fuel up with frozen foods and sugary processed snacks, how can you perform your best? Treating your body right isn’t difficult, and it makes a huge impact on your life.

And what’s the harm in trying to cook and eat more vegetables?

Vegetables

Rules for simple, real eating

I am not a specialist or a professional when it comes to food, so take my advice into your consideration and do your own research until you find the diet that’s best for you.

That being said, here are my rules for cooking, eating and general nutrition:

  • If it has a package or a coupon, it’s probably not the best option. This rules out a lot of the food in a typical American grocery store. Packages are covered in terms like “organic” and “gluten free” and “all natural” and “no added preservatives” to make you think they’re healthy. None of those terms mean healthy. Seek veggie alternatives to your usual snacks – carrots and snow peas dipped in hummus, trail mix or roasted chickpeas are some of my favorites.
  • Always cook for four. If it’s just for one or two people, don’t try to cook just a single meal. I try to cook at least four servings of everything because healthy leftovers are a cheap, healthy lunch for the next day and help me avoid impulse food buys. Sometimes I cook for six or even eight, but that gets a little hairy if it’s a new meal we may not like. Committing to gross leftovers is bad, but food waste is worse.
  • Get to know your produce department. Spend some more time getting to know what your grocery store has available. This helps you open your mind to new ingredients, and when you try new recipes you’ll know where everything is at. Another tip is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store – all the healthiest whole foods tend to be on the edges aside from spices, beans, rice and pasta. The aisles are filled with tempting packaged food.
  • Spices are your friend. When we moved, we left all of our spices with family members. So we’ve been building back up! I consider spices an investment since we’ll always have what we need on hand and it opens up a lot more recipes. I like to keep things simple, but I have a lot of spices and wouldn’t change that for the world. Don’t be tricked by prepackaged seasonings like those for tacos and guacamole – with the proper seasonings on hand, you can make them yourself and they’ll taste better and have no preservatives.
  • Get the proper supplies. This doesn’t have to be expensive. First, know your eating habits and what you can see yourself actually doing. Don’t get caught up by this post and buy a blender, only to realize later on that you’ll never use it. But I do recommend a blender. Broccoli, kale, pears, bananas, cucumber, celery, avocados, almonds…all have found their way into my blender for intense and delicious smoothies. I also recommend a wok (and/or a large stockpot) and a good knife or two. I rarely use anything other than my 8″ chef’s knife and the wok or stockpot are awesome for cooking large batches of veggie-heavy foods.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. Browse Pinterest, search for new recipes with your favorite veggies, explore new spices. Just don’t get caught in a bland routine. If you don’t want to spend time and money cooking a specific new dish, order it at a restaurant. If you like it, get all the necessary ingredients and try to recreate it. I’ve learned that it’s so much more fun to stay in and cook than it is to go out to restaurants, so once you’ve got it down there’s no need to go out for it again.
  • And finally, vegetables. Eat vegetables. I’ve come a long way from canned tomatoes and green beans, and it’s so fun to learn new ways to cook veggies I’ve eaten for years.

Some resources to get you going

I’ve been poring over food books and documentaries for a couple of years, but here are some of my favorites.

  • Anything by Michael Pollan. Food Rules is a short and sweet guide to eating right and isn’t preachy or filled with data. If you like data like I do, I loved In Defense of Food. His motto? “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • Forks Over Knives is a documentary that focuses on how the standard American diet affects disease. If you’re anti-vegetarian, this film is not for you since it emphasizes a no meat, no dairy diet.
  • I saw Fed Up at the Traverse City Film Festival and realized how much sugar is in everything. This film calls out processed foods and the sugar industry’s impact on the obesity epidemic.

You don’t have to be a nutrition fanatic or a chef to know what to eat and how to make it. Eating right takes patience, practice and a bit of research but it’s worth it.

You’ll lose the cravings for processed foods and you’ll notice little things like healthy fingernails that let you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Of course, occasional pizza and mac and cheese won’t hurt – remember what Emerson says about moderation?

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

What does a simple diet mean to you?

This Weekend’s Harvest

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend time at my parents garden in northern Indiana. There’s nothing quite like being outdoors and eating fresh veggies straight out of the dirt. Not as gross as it sounds.

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.

– Michael Pollan

I thought I’d share a few pictures of our harvest and the makings of our garden veggie stew that we cooked over coals near our fire.

While I’m not in the position currently to have my own garden, it’s so nice to have access to one. I know that someday I’ll have a full garden, but it’s city living for us for the next several years!

I do have some background in indoor gardening, so hopefully soon I can set up something (like aquaponics!) even on a small scale to grow some arugula and kale for my husband, rabbit and me.

Do you garden or will you garden?

Simple Eating: Stocking the Pantry

Some of you likely know me, and many of you know how much my eating habits resemble that of my rabbits. While not an official vegetarian, I eat mostly greens, beans, and rice. It sounds humble, but I’ve really grown to love my diet.https://i0.wp.com/25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m81yf4JCjO1r9accbo1_500.gif

So, I thought I’d share some of my shopping habits with you all to see how our staples compare to each other’s. I need to go shopping right now, so it’s a little more sparse than usual, but this is a fairly decent representation of what I have on hand at all times. Having these staples not only provides me with a good way to manage my nutrition, but also allows me to always have a go-to meal when I need it. I also love that I start from scratch on most things – it allows me to express some degree of creativity while I’m simply making dinner. Let’s start with the pantry!

Simple Pantry

What I Stock Up On

Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice is that my pantry looks BARE. This is because much of my food is fruits and veggies! And cheese. Unfortunately, more cheese than one human being should ever consume in a lifetime. Anyways, here are my staples:

  • Rice. I have tons of rice on hand at all times – I’m developing a huge fondness for this grain. I think I might even like it more than pasta at this point, as it’s less refined and not too much harder to make.
  • Oats. I love oatmeal in the morning! My breakfast of choice: toss 1/2-3/4 cups of rolled oats (not instant) into a bowl with ground flax seed, a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, cinnamon, and honey into a bowl and cover it with 1-1 1/2 cups of boiling water. I let it sit while I get ready, and then it’s good to go!
  • Peanut Butter. Worth it for the above mentioned use and random snack cravings. I try to get bulk – I’d love to get organic, but that’s quite a bit more than I’m willing to spend right now.
  • Vinegar and Oil. I love my apple cider vinegar (put a tablespoon or two of it in warm water with some honey and ginger and you’ve got a delicious beneficial drink), and I also use it as a salad dressing. Mixing vinegar, oil, pepper, and garlic powder is an AMAZING way to spice up kale. Plain white vinegar, too, is an essential I always have on hand for cleaning my hair, rinsing dishes, cleaning carpet, and getting the rabbit cage smelling like new again.
  • And of course, beans. I can’t get enough beans. I make refried beans in the crock pot at least once a week and eat them up like it’s my job. I add them to rice all the time for an extra protein boost (since I don’t eat a lot of meat). In fact, while I’m writing this post, I’m gobbling up some black bean brownies since I had a sweet tooth that wasn’t going away.

What I Avoid When Filling My Pantry

Things you won’t usually find in my pantry? Pretty much, if it’s in a box or bag, I try to avoid it. I really should have at least a few of these ready-meals for when I’m in a rush, but I’ve tried to avoid overbooking myself lately, so I don’t find as many occasions for those. Here’s what I steer clear of:

  • Pasta. Oh my goodness, I never ever thought I would put pasta on this list. Lord almighty, how I love my mac and cheese, and ziti with robust red sauce, and fettuccine alfredo. Oh fettuccine. However, I went through a phase in college where I almost exclusively ate spaghetti with plain marinara sauce, and I was constantly sluggish and moody. I’ve realized that by cutting back on pasta and adding in more diversity, I’ve been better off. I will occasionally have pasta on these shelves but I compensate by making my own sauces from scratch instead of buying jars of anything pre-made. I just know that once the pasta ball gets rolling, it’s nearly unstoppable, so this is definitely a personal choice.
  • Instant anything. I avoid anything “Hamburger Helper”-like and anything with “Instant” in the name. This includes instant oats and instant rice – I think it comforts me to know that my food isn’t somehow modified to encourage me to be a busier person. Again, a personal choice, but I feel like there are benefits to slowing down and connecting with your food. Weird? Yes. Working for me? Absolutely!
  • Sugar. This is going to sound crazy, but I haven’t had regular sugar in my apartment for about 4 months. I don’t put it in coffee, rarely bake, and when I do, I use what’s left of my absurd confectioner’s sugar stash. I avoid baking because there’s only two of us in the apartment, and we have a tendency to pig out on anything out of the ordinary in our sight. Hence why that third slice of black bean brownie is starting to look really good, and my fiance isn’t even here to stop me.

What are your staples, and what do you shy away from? Do you agree with my lists? Have at it in the comments below!