Simple Habits for a Clutter Free Home

I’ve moved! You can now follow along with my adventures at my new blog, Ennaree

www.ennaree.com


It’s no secret: I’m a messy person. Actually, I spent the first twenty-something years of my life ignoring that fact. But now that I share my space with someone else full time, I’ve realized that it is, in fact, me.

The most ironic part of it is that I am the first person to be bothered by a messy home. I’ve scoured the internet for tips on how to keep things tidy (for untidy people like me), and I’ve been slowly piecing together some good habits to help keep me sane.

My best practices for a clutter-free home

Obviously, the first and foremost tip I can give is to keep a simple home. If you’re reading this on my blog, you probably could have guessed that. But let’s talk about less conventional rules and habits that I’ve developed to help keep our tiny apartment clean!

 Treat the countertop as sacred space

This one is new-to-me, and actually works so well for me that it prompted me to write this post with other tips. Make it a rule that no dirty dish ever graces your countertop.

We’ve all been there (maybe): all of the dirty dishes piling up on one side of the sink, and then slowly taking over other available counter space. This new rule makes it so that every single dirty dish you bring to the kitchen goes straight into the sink. Is the sink too full? Then it’s time to either wash the dishes or load them into the dishwasher. Or, you can get in the habit of clearing it first thing in the morning or right before bed.

It works especially well for me since it makes the dishes more manageable if I handle them in smaller batches.

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 Make the bed

This one provides an instant boost. I’ve always known that my day seems a little brighter when I make my bed, but it’s not always top-of-mind.

It’s not just me, either: making your bed really can have a huge impact on your day.

Open the blinds

We try to keep as much light out at night, but during the day it’s essential for me to have my curtains pulled open. Natural light is just so pleasant.

Plus, by opening the curtains and blinds, I can more easily see dust. It sounds gross, but it’s way more motivating to clean when I can see the problem areas easily.

Everything gets a home

Yes, everything. If it’s beautiful and you use it often, set it out so that it can add to your decor. If it’s terribly ugly and you never use it…wait why do you have it?

Designate space in your cupboards for things like cleaning supplies or ugly (but useful) cookware. You might even go so far as to giving different groups of spices different homes on the spice rack – just start developing the habit of putting them right back where they belong when you are done.

I even give library books space on my nightstand or bookshelf so that they don’t just float around the apartment haphazardly. It also makes me feel super cool to have interesting books on my shelves – without having to pay for them.

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Make it a pleasurable experience

Find ways to make your cleaning habits more enjoyable. Have dusting rags in your favorite color, pick a wonderful scent for your cleaning product, splurge on durable and reliable tools to help you clean.

Right now, our dustpan is held together by masking tape and it makes me cringe every time I have to use it. So in the near future, I’ll be getting a dust pan that won’t snap immediately when I use it. We also splurged on a Swiffer WetJet and we ended up using it way more often than the shoddy mop we had initially purchased.

Basically, don’t skimp on tools if the better version will make cleaning more pleasurable (or at least more tolerable).

And now, for something completely different

This one is going to come as a bit of a surprise. While it’s not a regular habit, I do think there’s something to it for those of us who find our homes regularly cluttered: redecorate.

 

Don’t be afraid to switch things up, add things or remove things to make your space feel more intentional. It’s okay to style a bookshelf with pretty things that bring you joy if that means you keep other random (and unhappy) clutter from gathering there.

If you’re not intentional with your space, your things (no matter how few you have) will start to take control. I’ve been working on being more purposeful in my design and layout of the apartment, and that’s been a huge help in managing the flow of “stuff” through our home.

Are you messy like me? What are your favorite cleaning or decluttering habits?

 

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Simple in the City: Getting Around

You’ve found a place to live, so now it’s time to explore your city. But how? Today we’re talking transportation!

The golden rule of transportation

Let’s all say it together, class: less is more. After a year and a half of big city life (and big city traffic), it’s safe to say that the less commuting you have to deal with, the better.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hop in the car every once in a while—our trips to the beach and to local hiking spots are a welcome respite from the madness of Hollywood.

But, like I outlined in my post about where to live, the closer you are to necessities the better. My best tip is to avoid long commutes to and from work, especially if you’re traversing that path twice a day, five days a week.

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The zen of driving

When you do have to drive, make it a positive experience. That’s not always possible in Los Angeles, but I try my darndest.

Bring a bottle of water or tea and a granola bar for longer drives. A sip here and there at stoplights or stuck in traffic can relieve a lot of tension. Avoid anything too caffeinated for regular commutes, because it’ll just make you anxious. Also if you’re like me, coffee may cause some bowel emergencies that aren’t welcome when you’re stuck in traffic.

Know your route as much as you can before taking off, and know that a GPS is an excellent alternative to a phone—no one texts you on your GPS.

And of course, music makes things a whole lot better. I’ve been hooked on public radio, classical/jazz stations, and classic rock. I try to keep it easy and low-key for driving so that I can stay calm. Road rage is all the rage here in SoCal.

And for the love of all things, put the phone down.

Opting out of the car chaos

We’ve chosen the hassle and expenses of a car, but because of those drawbacks, we’re going to stick with just one for the foreseeable future. I’ll discuss this more in detail in a later post about budgeting, but insurance alone is three times more expensive here than in the Midwest, so that’s something to consider.

If you’d rather live without a car, there’s no better place to do it than in the city. There’s public transportation, taxis or other transportation networks, bikes, and just plain walking.

Since I’m not well-versed enough in public transportation (I’ll admit that I’ve never called an Uber), I can’t really give great tips. My best advice is to research, research, research. And take advantage of first-time ride offers when you can!

If you’d prefer to bike, find out what you can about bike laws. In Los Angeles, keep an eye out for where you can ride your bike on the sidewalk versus the road (drivers are insane here, so I’d be nervous on the road). Look for bike lanes and bike routes so you can get where you’re going as safely and efficiently as possible.

It’s okay to stay close to home

I’ve scoured maps of our area and keep an eye out online for new restaurants, bars, and cafes opening up within walking distance. There are plenty of unique spots in our area that we’ve become quite fond of.

For the first time ever, there’s actually a bar a few blocks away where the server knows my name. It’s opened up even more opportunities to explore—she can recommend places I haven’t discovered yet.

Stay safe in your travels, my friends! How do you prefer to get around in your city?

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?

More, More, More!

More!

It’s not quite the word you’d expect to see on a blog about simplifying.

But I think that it’s a core concept of what I’m trying to do here. I started to simplify when I noticed a lack of space, a lack of time, a lack of joy both in my possessions and in my lifestyle.

I needed more.

Do we always need more?

Of course not. It’s extremely important to know what to seek more of and what to avoid.

Seeking more quality, rewarding relationships is great, but seeking more acquaintances or “contacts” isn’t always best. Although if you love to network, then that’s perfect.

Adding more kitchen appliances for the sake of having a world-class kitchen isn’t productive, but adding more because you are pursuing your passion for cooking is a good start.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: more for the sake of more is what gets us into trouble. Intentionally choosing more (usually not physical, but sometimes it can be) is the sweet spot.

More vs. minimal

It’s time that we stop thinking of more and minimal as mutually exclusive.

Seeking more in a meaningful, intentional way is a recipe for an abundant life. The aim of minimalism and simple living is to get more of the good stuff: the stuff that isn’t necessarily stuff at all.

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It’s a simple opportunity cost: less of one thing means more of another, and vice versa.

So what do you want more of?

Quick practice: making a More List

Here’s a quick way to get your mind moving in the right direction. Grab a piece of paper and jot down ten things you want more of.

There are no bad ideas or wrong answers here – you might want more free time or more exercise, but it’s also okay too see things like more shoes or more ice cream. Just make sure that your list is an honest portrayal of what you want more of.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.

Swedish proverb

Next, consider each item. Why do you want more of each one? I always find that being honest with myself about my motive helps put things into perspective. You might cross off a few here if you realize your motives don’t match your current values.

Finally, break the list down even further.

What do you need less of in order to get more of each item? The obvious answer for most physical things or experiences is money. Is it worth it?

You’ll also see things that cost space, time, or energy. I’m not saying that spending these things is a bad idea, just be sure weigh the costs and benefits and work out what’s best for you.

Redefining minimalism

I’ve been thinking about this idea – of minimalism being about more – lately, and I was happy to hear that others who share my sentiment.

Brooke McAlary interviewed James Wallman on her Slow Home Podcast, and they discussed this issue of minimalism’s “branding problem” among other things. Minimalism is so commonly perceived in the negative light of denial and subtracting things from our lives that it can be unappealing and exhausting.

It doesn’t have to be!

So here’s my challenge to you: find what you want more of and start working towards it. Think about that process of having less of something in order to get more of what you want.

That’s how you define your minimalism.

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.

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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.

On Borrowed Dime

There’s a four-letter word that is guaranteed to make any twentysomething sweat: debt.

There are all sorts of articles about how student loans are Millennials greatest financial concern, how loans are delaying life milestones and even how 30% of Millennials would sell an organ for debt relief.

Non-millennials seem to love talking about and studying our financial issues. We’re like little indebted lab rats – everyone thinks they know what’s best for us from an outsider’s perspective. But what is it like to be an actual millennial with student loans?

It’s…life.

It’s what I know.

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Image courtesy of minimography.com

Our student loan debt story

My husband and I started dating in our first years of college. We were pretty typical: fresh out of high school, exploring the rest of our lives and excited to be 3 hours from home in a new city with new people. We also had no idea what loans would ultimately mean for us because all we saw was checks deposited to our bank accounts each semester.

Tens of thousands of dollars is much easier to spend than it is to pay off (plus interest). Someone may have told us that along the way, but it got very real once we graduated.

Now here we are, living in an expensive city (by choice!) with an ambitious goal of being debt-free by 2018. We’re making more than we were in Indiana, but we’re also both working jobs that don’t truly require a college degree, which is the story of so many millennials’ lives.

The interest rates we’re facing are costing us somewhere around $160 a month. Imagine buying a fancy coffee every day of the week – that’s what our interest is doing, and we don’t even get to drink the coffee.

Minimalism and debt

When I first started this journey a few years ago, I began from a place of having too many clothes and too much debt. I discovered Mr. Money Moustache and have since been on a mission to be debt-free.

I played around with the idea of early retirement, but my husband and I love where we’re at and the rent here makes financial independence a little…eh, a little more difficult.

But just like minimalism, we can choose how much it touches our lives – extreme minimalism and extreme frugality are not my thing, although I do strive every day for less stuff and less debt.

Minimalism and debt do go hand in hand – the less financially obligated you are to people and things, the less you have to worry about working long hours or a job you hate to pay off the things you don’t need. Being debt-free someday will allow my husband and I to be more flexible in where and how we live, and it will allow us to live more authentically as ourselves.

My advice about student loans

I am not a financial advisor. But, I am a young person living in a big city and dealing with an average helping of student loan debt so I have a few words of advice to share.

First of all, take as little as you can. I’m not saying to skip out on your dream college for an inexpensive community college – follow your values. Work as much as your schedule and life allows for while you’re in school, but don’t let a food court job get in the way of good internships (find paid internships if you can).

Go to parties, go to bars, but don’t spend all your time and money there.

Second, know your worth. Understand what level of pay your education can get you, shop around for jobs if you can and negotiate your salary. Ladies, especially you – women are known for not negotiating salaries.

I made a five-minute phone call before accepting a job offer and snagged an extra thousand dollars on my salary. It still kept me under the average salary for a college grad, but it was better than nothing.

You need to find what works best for you when it comes to actually paying off your loans. The debt snowball works for some, while my husband and I are adopting a highest-interest first method.

And again, be clear about your values while you’re in debt. Is your priority to be debt-free as soon as possible? Ours actually isn’t. If it were, we would not live in Los Angeles and I would have kicked the bunnies out years ago. Our priorities are to live well in a place we love.

Smooth sailing to all of you in similar boats!