Monthly Archives: August 2011

project 333: update for August

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One of my goals for the year is to consciously participate in Project 333.  The main purpose of Project 333 is to have a complete wardrobe with only 33 items in it and wear that wardrobe for a period of three months.  I’m hoping that once I get started, I’ll be able to have no more than 33 items in my wardrobe at any given moment.  You can learn more about Project 333 here

This last month of Project 333 has by far been the more difficult of the three-month project.  Summer finally arrived in Vancouver in August, and I realized while my wardrobe didn’t change, my satisfaction level with it did.  I got annoyed that most of my clothing fell into the category of “appropriate for the weather in Vancouver the other 11 months out of the year.”  Being a minimalist, I made do with what I already had on hand.  I wore mostly yoga pants with my previously loved, then shrunken, then stretched out tank tops.  The truth about cheap clothing appears to be that if it shrinks, wait five minutes – it just might find its way back to it’s original shape.  Or not.

My bathing suit that I paid $75 for last summer and had high hopes that it would last longer than two seasons has bitten the proverbial bullet.  I hate it when you spring for more expensive pieces and they don’t last.  I did manage to find a bathing suit bottom for $5, and plan on wearing one of my workout tanks with it when I go swimming over the course of the next year.  I can’t stand bathing suit shopping in the best of times, and this will ensure I won’t have to do any for the next year, but will also ensure I stay suitably covered while at the beach or the pool.

For the beginning of another round of Project 333 starting in September, I’ll be adding a couple of items to my wardrobe and subtracting others.  While I’ll be keeping my leggings and skirts, my summer dresses will be going on hiatus until I take a trip to Mexico this winter.  I’ll also be putting away my sandals and ballet flats, and bringing out one pair of boots for colder weather (and maybe my rain boots for when the weather really gets ugly).  I did buy some workout tanks recently (which I will be including in my 33-item total) that are very functional and that will work underneath a lot of my wrap-style tops.  I have plenty of clothing to last me the next three months, and when the weather cools down, I’ll be looking into my cold weather accessories to see me through.  I’ve also got a new-to-me winter jacket that I bought on sale at my neighbourhood thrift shop in May (see?!?!? I told you we have one very long cold season here!), and I am looking forward to keeping warm in it this winter.

Are you participating in your own Project 333?  If not, will you join me for this round? 

the minimaList: why living small is great

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Living small is our normal.  All of our friends in the city live in apartments or condos, and a lot of them have children of their own.  No one complains that their living space is too small.  We’re all to busy playing outside and getting lots of fresh air, playing with our kids.

Our urban centre is a beautiful, vibrant downtown area filled with lots of green trees and parks.  Of course, the city has its fair share of concrete, cars and construction, but for the most part, it’s not overwhelming.  We consider ourselves very lucky to live where we do, and even though others (namely, our families) think we could do with more living space, we’re content in our 828 square feet for right now.

There are so many benefits to living in a small space.  It’s easy to forget that most of the world does not live in large, McMansion-style homes, even though that’s the norm for a lot of us in North America.  And of course, living in a small home means taking into consideration what we are consuming and bringing into our home – that discussion is a lot more immediate than it would be if we had a larger home.

Here’s just a few reasons why living small is so great:

  1. Living small means less stuff.  Our home is just over 800 square feet.  For our family of four, that means about 200 square feet for each person.  In reality, we have much less space for our personal belongings, as a lot of our home is shared space (a living room and kitchen occupies half of our small home).  My kids share a room that is 100 square feet, but they still have room for their most precious things.  Overall, having less stuff means less time spent managing said stuff, and more time doing other things.
  2. Living small means less cleaning.  This is one of my favourite things about living small.  I hate organizing (I’d rather donate or toss things than try to organize them), and I am HUGE on keeping our home clutter-free.  Keeping our small abode free from clutter makes cleaning up easier, and having a minimal amount of clothing and personal belongings makes our daily rhythm a lot simpler.  Given one morning, I can clean every square inch of my home – this would include a very thorough cleaning of the kitchen, bathrooms, vacuuming, washing floors, washing sheets and linens, and clothing laundry.  Might even be able to get some dusting in there somewhere.  I try to do little bits at a time to keep the amount of cleaning from being overwhelming, but even when things build up, it’s nice to know that a commitment of a couple of hours can have everything back to tip-top shape.
  3. Living small means easier access to all the fun stuff in our city.  We use our home as a launch pad for getting out into our city and doing fun things.  We’re lucky to live in a neighbhourhood where we have access to several parks and playgrounds in our immediate vicinity, as well as amazing sites such as the Vancouver Aquarium and Granville Island.  Having desirable venues minutes away by car or literally steps from our own front door is priceless, and we’d be hard-pressed to find such convenience in many other neighbourhoods that feature large homes as opposed to small ones like ours.
  4. Living small means living with financial order and security.  This point is probably one that will resonate with the most number of people, and really, it’s the most practical reason to live small or at least live within your means.  We’re lucky in that we’ve never felt the need to compete with others in the lifestyle department, so we’ve pretty much never moved beyond living like university students.  Sure, our kids have added a few extra monthly expenses (food!), but for the most part, kids don’t cost that much and neither does living small.  It’s a lot easier to pay your bills when there are less bills to pay.
  5. Living small means more flexibility in life and possibly better health overall.  All of us could live with less stress.  Living small can be a great alleviator of stress:  Less stuff to clean?  Less stress.  More leisure time and less time spent working?  Less stress.  Less bills to pay?  Less stress.  More money in the bank?  Less stress!  All of the above mentioned things are great reasons to live small and stay within your means, but the most important reason is that it allows us to not only live with less material things, but to have a richer life in other areas that don’t relate to consumption and to alleviate some of the stress we place on ourselves to constantly be participating in a consumer-driven lifestyle.

I would equate living small as a similar experience to living in a hotel.  Some people might think, “That’s CRAZY! Who in their right mind would want to live in a space that SMALL?” – however, there are great benefits to be had.  As Christine from 100 things 100 days writes,

Seriously, have you ever walked into a hotel room and thought: what this place is missing is a whole lot of my crap?

My answer to that question, thankfully, is a resounding “no.”  We’re lucky to love living in a small home and we generally don’t miss any of the crap that comes along with home ownership on a larger scale.  We still have things that we don’t love, but we’re trying to own very little of those and certainly have less of those type of things than we would have if we owned a house or a larger home.

I know it’s the path less-travelled to live in a small home.  But none of us are suffering.  In fact, I believe it’s just the opposite.  We’re thriving, because we’ve recognized what is important to us.  Having enriching experiences is a lot more fun than having a bunch of “stuff” lying around our tiny abode, and owning a smaller home is a lot easier and less stressful than owning a house and all of the additional responsibilities that go along with it.

on radical minimalism and why you might be able to relate more than you think

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When I started counting the things that were leaving my home, the number got bigger and bigger.  And pretty soon, I realized why some minimalists count the things they own.  It’s because that number is a lot smaller than the amount of items that had to go before them. I counted 33 items in my seasonal summer wardrobe.  A month into the experiment, I realized I only wore two thirds of those items.  I guess I don’t need those other ten items after all.  One number continues to shrink as the other number grows.

Radical minimalism is not something people arrive at a day or even a week after they decide to begin their journey into minimalism.  It is a stage in the process – not everyone will move into radical minimalism from mainstream minimalism.  But I’m beginning to see how people arrive at radical minimalism.  It’s easier owning less.

The less I own, the less time I spend thinking about what I own.  The less time I spend taking care of what I own.  The less time I spend shopping for what I own.  The less time I spend paying for what I own. The less time I spend working for what I own.  The more time there is for doing more enjoyable things, and not acquiring more stuff.

A few super motivating, radical minimalists:

Nina Yau of Castles in the Airhere’s one of my favourite posts ever on radical minimalism, or “ultra minimalism” as Nina refers to it.  This is another fave.

Everett Bogue, formerly of Far Beyond the Stars.  You can read Everett’s archived blog here, it’s extremely motivating and I highly recommend it.

Dusti Arab of Undefinable You and formerly Minimalist Adventures

Bea Johnson from The Zero Waste Home

Kristy Powell from One Dress Protest 

Notice how none of those blog names have the word “minimalist” in them?  It’s because they’ve already moved beyond that, beyond the obvious, and into living more radically.  I was reading about all these different people who are really and truly (and successfully) living with less, and I wondered why can’t any of us do the same?

When I started identifying with the things these people were saying is when I began embracing the concept of radical minimalism, at least in theory if not yet in practice.  I always thought radical minimalism was some kooky offshoot of the minimalist movement that was for single people who longed to be “location independent” or “cybernetic yogis.” Good news, it’s for them but it can also be for me (and you) too.  Because once you’ve shrunk the amount of stuff you own to a negligible amount and you realize that you’re happy, or even happier than you’ve ever been, you begin to see how radical minimalism can be truly freeing.

I’ve given away thousands of things that I don’t need to other people, and I have yet to miss anything.  The benefits to owning less are great.  I would recommend the process of winnowing one’s belongings to anyone looking to live a fuller life.  Having I cleared away nearly five thousand items from my periphery, I can see a lot more clearly and the rhythm of my daily life is more enjoyable.

Start by letting go of things you don’t use or need.  Start counting your stuff.  Start making a connection between what you own and how little you actually need.  Start decluttering your life – your closets, your home, your schedule, your work commitments.  Make time to simply be, and see what comes of it.  It can be frightening.  And liberating.

get your party on, minimalist style

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Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.  I remember attending birthday parties when I was young, and they were very nearly always hosted in the birthday boy or girl’s home.  Either that or at McDonald’s.  Things were a lot simpler back then.

While you can still have your birthday party at McDonald’s, children’s parties seem to be getting a lot more elaborate as time goes on.  We’re planning a minimalist, eco-friendly version of a kid’s birthday party around here this week.  Here’s a few ideas we’ve come up with to keep the event both fun and earth friendly, minimalist style.

  • Host friends in your home or at a park.  Hosting a party in your home or at a park can help ensure that the party will not only cost less, but that there will be less waste generated overall from the party.  Our home is too small to host more than a couple of people at a time, but we’re lucky enough to have a lounge in our building that is a perfect area for hosting friends and family.  We’ll be taking advantage of this common space in our building to host my son’s birthday party, and we’ll be using the yard-sized grassy area for the kids to play outside if the weather cooperates.
  • Use reusable plates, bowls and glasses.  I’d considered using disposable plates, but I’d have to buy them.  And then throw them away.  Seems a shame when I already have perfectly good dishes and glasses on hand.  Sure, I’ll have to wash the dishes when we’re finished with them, but I figure that’s what my dishwasher is for anyway.
  • Prepare food at home with fresh ingredients, rather than buying pre-made food.  I’ll be toting my popcorn maker to the party and making fresh, air-popped popcorn for the kids.  I’ll also be making my famous hummous in advance of the party, as well as serving some fresh fruit and vegetables for guests to nosh on.  It’s less expensive to prepare your own party food, and it’s less wasteful than buying food that has a ton of packaging.
  • Ensure anything bought from the store has packaging that can be recycled.  Even though I’ll be buying fresh food for the party, some things still come in packaging that can’t be escaped.  Strawberries come in a plastic clamshell, blueberries come in a cardboard container, and the garbanzo beans that will later be turned into hummous come in an aluminum can – thankfully, these packaging items can at least be recycled.  If you recycle where you can, you’ll be able to keep your party trash to a bare minimum.
  • Entertain with what you have on hand.  I’ll be organizing an art project for the party for kids who want to play inside, and we’ll have a soccer game and Hot Wheels car wash set up for the kids outside.  We had a similar set-up last year (and way more kids), and it worked perfectly.  We’ll be using toys, sports equipment and craft supplies that we already have on hand at home, and we won’t be buying anything extra for the party.
  • Eliminate loot bags.  For my son’s birthday party last year I did prepare loot bags for the kids, but I won’t be doing the same this year.  I don’t really like loot bags (I can’t stand the junk that goes in them), but I know the kids love them, so I’m making a compromise.  For this year’s event, we’ve chosen a small toy for each child – the boys will be getting a small Lego toy and the girls will be receiving a Playmobil figurine.  Both of these companies produce high quality toys, and giving our young guests a toy that is not destined for the garbage the moment they arrive home makes me feel better about the whole loot bag conundrum.
By having a minimalist birthday party, it not only makes for less waste, but it’s a strategy that saves money too.  Keeping things to a minimum in the “stuff” department, will also ensure we won’t be left with a lot of extra things when the party is over.  We’re just making do with what we’ve got on hand in the entertainment department, and we’ll be having delicious food, a yummy birthday cake, and lots of great conversation with friends.

How do you do kids birthday parties?  Do you go all out, party mama style?  Or do you like to keep things a bit more low key?

retail me not: how to avoid back-to-school shopping

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As a teenager, I felt a certain urgency around having a few new items to wear to school in September.  I know now that the urgency I felt was manufactured by marketing and advertising in an attempt to get me to spend more money on things I probably didn’t need in the first place.  Even now, nearly a month ahead of the start of the school year, the “Back to School” sales and promotions have begun.  On a grocery trip to Costco this past weekend, I noticed a huge selection of backpacks, books, writing utensils and other school related items.

According to a study by Visa Canada, Canadian shoppers plan to spend over $400 on back-to-school shopping before Labour Day.  Last year, back to school shopping costs in the United States averaged over $600 per family.  Myself, I’ve never enjoyed the pressure to acquire new clothing at the beginning of each school year.  Thankfully, I won’t be participating in the time-honoured tradition of back-to-school shopping in the coming weeks.

I’ll be foregoing back-to-school shopping entirely this year, and here’s a few ideas our family will be applying to get the most out of the back to school experience.  This strategy is designed to save us time and money, and it jives nicely with our interests in lightening our own impact on the environment.

  1. I’ll be taking inventory.  As I pack away my kids’ summer clothes, I’ll be getting out the fall/winter clothing.  We’re lucky enough to live in a climate where we can wear the same lightweight, cool weather clothing for ten months out of the years, so the kids will continue wearing the clothes they wore in the spring and summer, as seasonally appropriate.  Throw on an extra sweater or sweatshirt and substitute pants for shorts when the weather cools down, and we’re good to go.  My own clothing selection will be re-evaluated at the beginning of September as I enter a new phase of my Project 333, but I won’t be taking advantage of any seasonal sales or promotions to supplement my own wardrobe.
  2. We’ll be shopping in our closets.  My son has not grown enough in the past two months that he has outgrown enough of anything in his wardrobe to warrant a trip to the mall.  His backpack has held up well, so he’ll be using the same one again this year.  We picked up a winter jacket for my oldest last January during sale season, so we are set for the winter as well.  The only clothing purchase I can foresee making for him in the next six months is a new pair of running shoes (if he outgrows his current ones).
  3. I’ll be participating in our school supplies program.  My son’s school asks that families pay up front in September for their children’s school supplies for the duration of the school year.  We are asked to pay $25 for our child’s school supplies needs for an entire school year.  This amount seems reasonable to me, especially given that if I had to and purchase supplies for my child alone, the cost would likely run over $25.  Also, with this system, I don’t need to spend any time at all shopping for school supplies.  All things considered, I think it’s money well spent.
  4. I don’t homeschool my school-age child, and therefore, I have little need for school supplies at home.  Since my son attends public school, most of his school supplies needs will be met in his classroom.  Other than a few pencils, an eraser, some paper and a few craft supplies, we won’t need much else here at home.
  5. We’ll be brown-bagging it this year.  Well, not literally – he’ll be packing a reusable lunch sack with an assortment of tasty and nutritious food as he’s starting first grade and it will be the first time he’ll be at school over the lunch hour.  We won’t be participating in a school lunch program – it was cancelled for the semester due to low enrollment, but I hadn’t planned on participating anyway primarily because seeing as how I’m at home full-time with the kids, I will have the time to prepare his lunch the night before.
  6. We’ll be looking to buy gently used, rather than new.  Not only is a lot of money spent every year on items earmarked for returning to school, but consider too the resources required to buy all-new, all the time.  Consider re-using things you may still have from your child’s previous year, or consider checking your local thrift shop for gently used kids’ clothing before you head to the mall to shop for brand new clothes.
I’ll be staying out of stores (particularly the big box variety) and limiting my visits to online sites that sell kids clothing, so as not to be tempted to buy anything.  I know that my kids have enough, and I don’t need a back-to-school sale to tell me otherwise.  I’ll be spending the time I would have spent shopping on the playground with my kids, and enjoying the last few lazy days of summer vacation.

Are you planning on doing any back to school shopping?  Or will you be approaching things differently this year?

project 333: update for July

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One of my goals for the year is to consciously participate in Project 333.  The main purpose of Project 333 is to have a complete wardrobe with only 33 items in it and wear that wardrobe for a period of three months.  I’m hoping that once I get started, I’ll be able to have no more than 33 items in my wardrobe at any given moment.  You can learn more about Project 333 here.

So far, I’m considering my project 333 a huge success.  I’ve been able to function happily with my minimal wardrobe of less than 33 items for a full two months, two weeks of which were an out-of-town vacation which included several trips to the beach and lots of visiting with family and friends.  Not only did I have sufficient clothing to look presentable and feel good about my appearance, I was received several complements on my clothing, particularly my summer dresses.

A few things I’ve learned in the past month:

  • People do not notice if you have a small wardrobe, particularly if it is well put-together.  I wore a simple black dress at least five times when I was on vacation, and I got at least that many compliments on it.  One reason I used to have an extensive wardrobe was because I was of the impression that others were judging what I was wearing.  Here’s some good news:  no one cares what I’m wearing.  Or what you’re wearing.  As long as you look presentable and are happy with how you look, consider yourself dressed.  No need to accumulate a closetful of clothing simply to impress others or make yourself happy.  Don’t worry about what others are thinking, and try to focus on being content with what you have in this moment.  It truly is possible to be content with less.
  • Quality items generally cost more.  As evidenced by the fact that my $6 t-shirt shrunk when I put them in the dryer.  This fact pains my frugal heart.  But I dislike waste, so as much as I like the idea of buying clothing on the cheap, I’ll be looking for better quality clothing items in the future.  Quality items also generally tend to last longer and look better in the longer term.
  • When you spend less time shopping, there is more time for everything else. So far this summer we’ve spent time at the beach, at the pool, on playgrounds, in water parks, at the library, in backyards, and on the streets in our city.  And we’ve had great fun.  It was exhilarating watching the kids through the garden sprinklers in my parents’ backyard shrieking with joy.  The amount of time I’ve spent shopping has been minimal, limited almost exclusively to shopping for food.  And for the memories I’ve had time to create in lieu of time spent shopping, I’m grateful.
  • Having a list of what you own makes it easier to justify not buying things.  Participating in Project 333 helps facilitate a lot of self-control when faced with the temptation of new clothing.  Now when I find myself in a store I do a mental review of the items that are currently on my list, along with the colours and sizes and it helps me determine if I actually need something or if I just have a bad case of the momentary wants.
This project has been fun, and I’m looking forward to switching things up a little in early September.  With the end of summer, I’ll be tucking away my summer dresses and sandals for another season, and bringing out my sweaters (I only have a couple) and boots again.  In the meantime, I’m planning on enjoying the next three weeks of sunshine and relishing my current wardrobe while the weather is still warm.

back from vacation and back in the saddle

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We arrived home from our two week vacation yesterday, and we’re all getting back into the routine of being at home.  On Tuesday, as we prepared to hit the road and packed the trunk of our car, it occurred to me that it was filled with a lot of stuff.  We had acquired some things while on vacation (namely, an entire junior golf club set) and it showed in the fullness of the trunk of our car.  Why is it so hard to make plans to take very little on vacation and then end up doing the total opposite?  I suppose the truth lies in the reality that it’s human nature to fill a space if it is available.  If I have a big suitcase, I’m likely to fill it to the brim, rather than leaving it half full.  Same goes for the trunk of the car.  Oof.

Having had a couple of weeks to ruminate about life, I realized a few more things while on vacation:

  • Practicing minimalism requires having some faith.  I’m a bit obsessive about what I take on vacation.  I feel more comfortable if I take everything in my medicine cabinet.  That alone has got to be a sickness.  I need to practice having more faith. Faith that if my kids get sick or hurt, there will be a drugstore nearby to get anything they might need.  Having faith is a good practice in daily life, and particularly practical if you are an aspiring minimalist who desirous of a contented life.
  • When you get bored on vacation, it’s easy to fall back into old (read: bad) shopping habits.  Spending time at the local shopping mall was a huge draw while we were on our holiday.  In a city known for its fabulous summer weather, Kelowna did not have beach-worthy weather for the first half of our stay.  In fact, most days were filled with clouds, rain and thundershowers.  We spent a good portion our vacation close to home and the kids had a lot of fun playing in my parents’ back yard, but eventually the lure of the mall won out in the early part of week two.  I realize how lucky we are to live in Vancouver where there are so many other things to do than hit up the mall in a moment of boredom or desperation.
  • We’re lucky to live in a city where we don’t have to get in a car in order to leave home and experience the wonders of the world.  We’re so fortunate to live in an amazing, vibrant community with parks, an ocean, playgrounds, and walking paths just outside our front door.  I’ll admit I take the convenience of all the amenities of our neighbourhood for granted, and I found it a hassle to get in a car with two kids in car seats every time we wanted to go somewhere while we were on vacation.  I’m so grateful for the location of our current home and I am loving the city life more than ever right now.
  • When everyone you know lives in 2000+ square feet, it becomes easier to rationalize the idea of moving into a larger space.  My husband has been tossing around the idea of moving out of the city in a few years, and so we checked out some neighbourhoods in Kelowna where we might be interested in living. Potentially.  It’s a sad realization that most homes that have been built in the last 10 years are over 3,000 square feet.  I’m just not sure that we need all that space, but maybe ask me again in 5-10 years when my two boys are in their teenage years.
  • Suitcases were designed to facilitate us taking more “stuff” with us when we travel.  It’s official: I hate suitcases.  My husband received two suitcases as a gift upon graduating from university over ten years ago and we’ve used them faithfully for our annual vacations.  But they weigh a ton.  And they’re huge.  And I just end up taking more stuff with me on my trip because, hey, there’s that extra space in there that I could use for something.  Which leads me to my next point…
  • You will always need less than you have packed for your trip.  I took twenty or so items of clothing with me and didn’t get a chance to wear them all in two and a half weeks.  I also took four pair of shoes and only wore two of them.  I’m going to be packing lighter for our next trip, and knowing that we have access to laundry facilities, I’ll probably need to take only half as much as I took for myself and the kids for our last trip.

I put a little pressure on myself before we left on vacation to complete my decluttering challenge of ridding our home of 4022 items, and I managed to accomplish my goal!  I’ll be continuing to declutter our home as need be, but most of my efforts will be put towards continuing to stem the tide of things coming into our home.  My oldest has a birthday coming up in the next two weeks and I’ll be exploring options for a minimalist birthday party, so stay tuned for that post coming soon.

I’m hoping to re-strategize for a week-long trip we have coming up at the end of the months and do things a little differently.  I won’t be taking my suitcase, and I’ll be taking about half as much clothing for myself and the kids as I took on this most recent vacation.

Do you like to travel light?  Or do you bring everything and the kitchen sink?