Sunday, August 10, 2014

Camping: Simple Living at It's Finest

A few weeks ago I did something I haven't done in years, and something my husband and I have never experienced together.  We went camping! I can't tell you how excited I was about this getaway.  I grew up going camping with my family nearly every summer and I love the outdoors.  Memories of hiking, camp fires and smores made me giddy as I thought about how to recreate them as an adult.  We drove 4 hours south to Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.  The scenery was breathtaking, our campsite modest.  No running water, only an outhouse and a fire pit.  We pitched a tent, unrolled our sleeping bags and started to make dinner around the camp fire with our friends.  I immediately felt relaxed.  My mind was clear.  The air was filled with the smell of smoke and barbecue.  People played guitar near by and kids squealed with laughter.  Forest noises of cicadas and crickets rose up and the twinkling of fire flies appeared.  We didn't need to rush anywhere or do any work. No to do lists, no errands, no plans.  We just got to sit by the crackling fire and be together.  Throughout the weekend we hiked, swam in a river and enjoyed more time around the camp fire.  We went to sleep when the stars came out and woke up with the sun.  We were completely disconnected from phone service or electricity.  We only had whatever belongings or food we had brought and we made due and even got creative with campfire recipes. There were no distractions at all.  Simple living at its finest.

We arrived back home and while I was sad to leave the wonderful weekend I was very thankful for my shower and flush-able toilet! Even after just 2 days living in such simplistic conditions, I was thankful for the things that I do have and have a renewed sense that I have all I need, and I have no desire for anything more.  This is one of the reasons I love minimalism.  You get rid of excess, and you stop having the constant desire for more.  You feel content with yourself, and more comfortable with where you are and who you are.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fresh Produce and Apartment Living

After moving back to the states I knew I was going to miss the abundance of fresh, local produce available just steps from my apartment building in Ramat Gan, Israel.  Even though we now live in farm country, somehow it is more difficult to access fresh local produce on a daily basis.  Our area has a wonderful farmers market, but only on Saturdays and sometimes we cannot make it there on a weekly basis.  We decided to recreate our herb planters that we had in Israel, but wanted to experiment with growing some produce in pots.  Living in an apartment means no yard to create a large garden.  We decided to start small with one potted cherry tomato plant, and a pot for green onions made from an onion that had started to sprout in our kitchen.

We have been benefiting from constant fresh green onions for some time, and they seem to be flourishing in the tiny pot on our patio.  But today, we finally got to taste our first ripe cherry tomato grown organically on our own patio.  And may I say it was sweet, juicy and delicious!  There is something so satisfying and rewarding about growing your own food.

Apartment living has been wonderful for our minimalist lifestyle.  The perfect amount of space, no maintenance, no yard work, and low cost.  However, the ability to have our own garden beds is something that keeps me wondering if we would want to get a small house with a yard in the future.  Luckily we have plenty of time to think about it and we will be sure to weigh the pros and cons to stay true to the quality of life we want to have.

Definitions of "minimalism" and "simple living" are different for each person and each family.  It is about living consciously and putting value and importance on what really matters to you.  That could mean living out of a backpack, not owning any furniture, having a flexible job or being able to grow your own cherry tomatoes on your patio.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Minimalism Maintenance

It has nearly been 2 years since I embarked on my journey towards minimalism.  I have gotten rid of a lot of belongings and cut down on what I purchase and bring into the home.  All my clothing, both for summer and winter can fit into one suitcase, all of our books fit onto two shelves on a bookcase, and paper clutter is at an all time low.  Even with all of these goals accomplished, even a minimalist needs to do some maintenance every now and again.

This weekend I found that some minimalist maintenance was in order in my home.  I took the plunge and got rid of the rest of my makeup and toiletries I was hanging onto and not using, I went through our lone junk drawer in our coffee table, reviewed our paper files, chose two more books to donate to the local library and found 2 more items of clothing to give away.

Even though this wasn't a huge purge or a massive overhaul with shocking before and after photos, it felt good to check in with how my home is functioning and how it makes me feel.  Do you have the feeling that you need some simple living maintenance?  Here are some tips I lead my Your Simple Home clients through:

1) Sit in each space and reflect on how the space currently functions and how it makes you feel.
2) Think about how you WANT the space to function and how you WANT to feel in your space.
3) Do the answers to 1 and 2 match?  If they do, fantastic! If not, some maintenance may be in order.
4) Set goals for your space to help you with decision making on what to keep and what to purge.
5) Work one shelf, drawer, table, etc. at a time.  Take it slow, this is not a race.

What other maintenance tips and tricks do you use to keep your home simple and enjoyable?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Honoring Memories Through Possessions

I was recently inspired by one of my Your Simple Home clients. While at her home, my client explained that she had a hard time letting go of gifts family and good friends give her even if she absolutely hates the item. Because the item was given with love, she was filled with feelings of guilt at even the thought of letting it go. We decided to start off small and tackle a bookshelf in her study. We came across a lot of clutter, however, she shared some extraordinary items full of family history and amazing memories.

One item was a framed, handwritten letter from her great-grandmother.  She wrote the following story: "...this letter was written by my great-grandmother to (in the voice of my grandmother) announce the birth of my maternal grandmother. I cherish it not only because it is a family heirloom, but because it is written in a very different era (hand-written, even) after World War I but before World War II. Simply put, it was a period I cannot fathom but this piece at least allows me to imagine."

The second item was a vintage Ken doll,  She wrote,  "When my paternal grandparents came to this country after the Holocaust, their financial resources were obviously limited. My understanding is that both of my aunts received Barbie dolls... sort of. My oldest aunt was given a Barbie doll, while my younger aunt was given Ken. You can imagine the disappointment that my aunt felt. So my aunt gave this doll to me when I was about 13-years old. It serves as a reminder of what my family went through in order to thrive in this country and the sacrifices---big or small---that had to be made by all. It is not particularly attractive nor is it in good condition, but it's of great importance to me."

We discussed how these items made her smile, brought her joy and many positive family memories.  We then worked to declutter the items on the bookshelf that did not bring her joy and that took up space and energy.  By getting rid of the excess styff, these treasured items could be displayed and honored in a way that they could be enjoyed by her and her family on a daily basis.

She wrote, "Being able to have both items represented in the room has been wonderful!"

We all assign emotional value to our possessions, and if an item carries memories of loved ones, they can bring all sorts of emotions to us.  When clutter is an issue in our lives it comes time to take stock of the possessions we have and think about why we have them.

Questions to consider:

Does the item bring me good memories or bad ones?

Do I enjoy having this in my home and in my life?

Am I able to enjoy the item on a daily basis?

Sometimes we love the sentimental items we own but they become lost on shelves, in piles and in storage.  When this happens, we do not honor the memories the item gives us and we miss out. Getting rid of the excess, of the items that do not invoke positive emotions, we make room for the ones we cherish.  Our homes should be places of comfort and joy.  By making conscious decisions of what comes in we can maintain those feelings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

College Clean Out: This one is for YOU college students!

Living in a college town and working with college students on a daily basis is seriously awesome.  I get to work with bright, motivated individuals who want to change the world.  Today marked the last day of classes and the students are getting ready to complete their final exams, papers and projects.  Soon many will pack up to go home, travel, or move into different apartments.  All of these options require packing up a lot of stuff.  So this post is specifically for you my college student reader.  Here are the best tips I wish I would have had in my college days for packing up at the end of an academic year.

Whether you are a senior who is graduating and either moving back home or to your first non-college apartment all the way to a freshman leaving your first dorm room, you may have noticed that your stuff has multiplied this year.  The t-shirts from the different clubs or events you were involved with, your papers and text books that you are starting to think you may need again, or the kitchen supplies you stocked up on but never had the time to really use.

Take some study breaks this week to think about the state of your stuff.  What has your space felt like this year and how do you want it to feel and function for next year?  In college, many of us don't have a lot of space to begin with, so why fill it to the brim with things you don't use anyway?

Tips for the College Clean Out:

1) If you haven't worn a clothing item ALL year, trust me you won't be wearing it again.  Donate it or sell it in a consignment shop.

2) Really think if you need EVERY Fraternity/Sorority Insignia item you own?  Will one item be enough to capture the memories?  Take pictures of anything you want to remember and hand down to younger 'brothers' or 'sisters' in your house as you head out. Maybe you will start a new tradition, and a minimalist one at that!

3) Sell your textbooks to other students for decent prices.  Trust me, you won't need them again and they are heavy and cumbersome.  

4) Projects and Papers should be saved digitally and never in paper.  If you do want to refer to it later you will more easily find it on the cloud than in a pile.

5) Kitchenware can be tricky but you probably already know your housing plans for the fall at this point.  Talk to your roommates/housemates and see who has what and then get rid of the excess.  No need to have doubles and triples of plates and pots that you won't end up using.  Down the line you can always re-buy if you need and in the meantime you don't have to worry about storing and adding clutter to an already small living space.

6) Donate unopened food items to local food pantries, don't just throw away food that others could use.

7) Take a study break to actually find out where you can donate furniture items instead of tossing by the dumpsters.  Many places will even pick up the items for free. One example: The University of Illinois YMCA has a great program called "Dump and Run" where you can drop off items or have them picked up.  The items will be sold and the proceeds will go to fund YMCA programming.

I hope these tips will help you cut down on the clutter to make move-out and your next move-in a lot easier and less stressful.  Let me know if any of you have any awesome tips or if you have any questions!  

I will also put a plug in here for my home simplifying business: Your Simple Home for any local students who may need some extra help.  Special discounts for students, please inquire with me at

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Makeup Makeover

Back around December I was overwhelmed with my drawer in my bathroom.  I would sift through quite a lot of makeup but was only actually using a small amount.  I realized that not only was I not using most of what I had, the stuff I was using was old, running out, and probably not the best stuff to be putting on my skin.  I decided to do an overhaul.  I went through everything and tossed about 75% of what I had.  I went to the store of the brand I like and told the sales woman what I wanted.  I explained that I needed her to help me find a minimal amount of products that I would use consistently, would be fast and easy to apply and would be as simple and natural on my skin as possible.   Luckily she listened.  I was honest with her about which products I simply wouldn't end up using based on my experience.  I now only have four products total that take me about 2 minutes to apply in the morning.

What happened to the other 25% of products that I didn't throw away in December?  Well here they are before hitting the trash bin now in May:

Brushes, lip gloss, eye liner and cases I simply have never used since acquiring them. No need to keep them in my drawer cluttering up my space.

Now getting ready in the morning is a breeze and a joy without seeing a bunch of clutter I haven't used in years sitting in a drawer.  I like not having a ton of options when it comes to my makeup routine and I now have a system and products that work well for me in all types of occasions.

Here are some tips I learned that may help you in your next Makeup Makeover:

* Throw Away If:
1) You haven't used the product in over a year.
2) It does not flatter you or work with your skin type.
3) The product isn't recommended for use past a certain time frame (like eye make up).
4) You don't LOVE it.

* Don't be shy about asking for help from experts: There are many makeup artists and specialists who can point you towards products that work well for you and your lifestyle.  The key is to be honest with them about your habits and past experience with makeup. For example: If you never put on eyeliner because it takes too much time, you probably won't start now even if you buy some.

* Don't feel pressured to buy more than what you are looking to buy.  Stand firm, you will be glad you did.

* Make sure you only have the amount of products that can fit in the space you have allotted for them.  If your makeup is spilling out of drawers and bins you won't know what you have and it won't be fun to apply and wear.

* One In, One Out Rule:  Just like clothes and other items, this is a trick to keep your makeup from multiplying. For example: If you find you are getting bored of your current eye shadow, it may be time (for health reasons) to get a fresh one, make sure the old stuff hits the trash bin before you open the new one.

I hope these are helpful! I would love to hear additional tips and tricks about simplifying makeup and other beauty products! Please share in the comments.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How to skip the lines at Passport Control!

On a recent trip to visit family abroad my husband and I decided to pack carry-on only. We scrutinized every item we would bring and calculated that we could do laundry once on the trip.  We each took one carry on sized suitcase and a small personal bag.  We managed to do this while also bringing dress clothes for a wedding.  With such a short trip, we wanted to save time by not waiting at the baggage claim carasouls. What we did not know, was that on the way back to Chicago O'hare, we would be able to bypass the main passport control hall all together!

As we were racing to get ahead of the crowds (we had a connecting flight with only 45 minutes to go), we passed a woman in the hall way just off the plane holding a sign that read "passengers with carry-on only".  I stopped and said, "We only have carry-ons!" And she ushered us right there to a TSA agent who checked our passports immediately and quickly.  We were then directed down a separate hallway that led to the arrival hall which bypassed the main passport control and baggage claim areas.  We arrived at our gate within 10 minutes of departing the plane, most of the time was spent getting across the airport instead of waiting in the long lines of passport control with the other passengers.

O'hare is calling this program, "1-Stop Clearance"

Well if this is not incentive to pack lighter then I don't know what is!! Making travel more simple equals a more enjoyable experience. So next time you are planning a trip check out the airports you will be arriving at and see if they have similar programs so you, too, can reap the benefits of traveling light!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Clutter We Carry

Whether you use a purse, backpack, computer bag, traveler bag, or even just your pockets, we all carry things with us on a daily basis.  Over the course of time we collect more items and before we know it, we are actually carrying around our clutter, lugging it around, dragging it around.  It weighs us down, makes it difficult to find what we need and drives us crazy.  I realized that my purse was overflowing with junk earlier this week:

Pads of paper, receipts, tissues, ticket stubs, coupons, multiple pens, medication, vitamins, you name it, it was in there! I had even unzipped the extension part of my purse to make more room, something I only do when I use my purse as more of a carry on when doing long distance travel.  It was time to declutter!

I sorted through the items and recycled all the paper, threw away the old, and got rid of the multiple pens and pads of paper.  I thought through my daily routine and kept only the essentials:

The essentials include: notebook, pen, sunglasses, glasses, wallet, business cards, make up bag, ear-buds, purse hook and winter gear (to be put away once spring finally decides to make an appearance!).


 I was able to close up the extension and fit all my essentials in my light and spacious purse.  The rest of the week was much easier not sifting through lots of junk! I am now making it a priority to go through my purse at the end of each week to get rid of any accumulated clutter and keep the items I carry to a minimum.

What are your tips and tricks to keeping your daily bag clutter free?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Post Traumatic Moving Stress

As a mental health professional by training I do not take Post Traumatic Stress lightly by any means.  Recently my husband and I realized that we were saving unnecessary items purely due to the residual stress from two international moves.  While our physical possessions have slimmed down, we were holding onto every cardboard box that those items came in. Full garbage bags worth of bubble wrap and more gallon sized plastic zip-bags than anyone could possibly need in their life time.  Because of this our extra closet was stuffed to the brim, not with stuff, but with the stuff FOR our stuff.

At first I didn't even realize the issue and told my husband that I wanted to condense the boxes and packing materials to try and create more room.  My husband smiled and said "you sound like your clients," and he was right.  We sat down and discussed why we felt the need to hang on to the myriad of packing supplies. By hanging on to the stuff we weren't allowing ourselves to fully feel at home and settled.  We had already signed our lease for another year and are not in a rush to move (thank goodness!).  If we need to, we will find new boxes for our things when we do face our next move and in the meantime we can part with a good portion of the boxes.  So we went to work:

Before: Every box is empty and being stored for a "just in case" situation

Sorting through the boxes

Boxes broken down, condensed and put out for recycling

A full shelf is now free and open, life just got a little simpler!

We got rid of 75% of the materials and only kept boxes for key items that would need some extra support in the event of a move.  The rest we took apart and put in the recycling bin.  The boxes we kept only take up one shelf in the closet (as opposed to both and being ceiling high!)and there is room to spare if our guests would actually like to use it! Moral of the story, there is always room for improvement.  If you find yourself trying to condense your things to increase space, it may mean that it is time to declutter to make enough room to live more simply.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Simple New Years Resolutions

2014 has arrived....over a month ago! Wow time flies when you are having fun!  I was lucky enough to spend new years this year abroad in Israel visiting friends and family. I love times of the year where I can symbolically have a fresh start and January/February are a few of those times with the new year in January and my birthday (#28!) in February.  As I was reviewing International Green Minimalist - Best of 2013
 I was thinking how happy I am to have adopted a simpler life style and am proud of the progress I have made paring down my possessions and simplifying my schedule.  I want to keep up this simple lifestyle and also continue to improve.

So here are my simple new years (both for 2014 and for 28!) resolutions:

- Only make conscious purchases that are either necessary, truly beneficial and will bring me joy.
- Continue to recycle, conserve water and be mindful of energy use in the home.
- Look into joining a Community Supported Agriculture group to get fresh locally grown produce regularly.
- Work on my small business, Your Simple Home.
- Improve upon International Green Minimalist!
- Be mindful of my schedule to save time for family and self care.

I will be sure to keep you all up to date on my resolutions.  What are your simple new years resolutions?  Please share in the comments!