Small Space Living

Tip 04// Having Bare White Walls

If you walk into our home, you’ll notice a certain spaciousness. Part of that spaciousness is helped by the lack of things, sure. Some may think the answer also lies in a vaulted ceiling, and yes, the array of bright California daylight streaming through the windows gives the home a bit more freshness that you can breathe in. But this isn’t what causes that feeling of space, for I’ve been in plenty a home with vaulted ceilings and bright windows, without feeling the peace. The subtlety that our home is plentiful in but which one may not recognize as serving a function, is the bareness of our plain, white walls. 

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I love plain, white walls. I love how fresh they feel, how they emit a sense of newness and emptiness, like blank slates full of possibility. When you move into a new home, the walls are white, to allow you to dream of what could be, rather than what is. I like to keep that door to creativity open, to live in a place where anything can happen.

I like the way that you can easily detect a smudge, and just as easily cover it with some fresh paint, without worrying so much about the layers blending in with each other, or achieving the perfect shade. White on white is simple, but painting gray on existing gray makes darker gray, and that’s too complicated. It’s emancipating how easily you could fix the problem. A can of paint is equivalent to the white out pen of adulthood, a magic eraser per say.

I like the way light reflects off of them, and how they can make a room feel brighter somehow, bigger almost. Living in a tiny home, that’s kind of what we need. I like how they accentuate the furniture, rather than hide them in their shadow. It’s almost as if it draws attention to the actual things that fill the home, rather than have the things hide the home itself. I like how they reflect the warmth of wood, and the coolness of metal. Dark walls wouldn’t do the same.

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I like them better when they’re bare. Have you noticed how picture frames suck you in, open shelving collects clutter, and anything else at eye-level distracts your attention? Have you noticed how rooms feel smaller when the walls are covered with hanging treasures … ever felt claustrophobic, or suffocated? I like that people walk in here, and open up just by being in the white wall’s presence. I like that they don’t stop mid-conversation to comment on a painting, or a picture frame. While it may be nice to walk into a home and comment on the childhood photographs of the inhabitants of said home, perhaps, as a means to start a conversation or reminisce, I also think it detracts from an ability to speak to each other of things far less superficial.  I am not saying this isn’t the way to decorate, for that’s a personal choice, but I am saying that when I stare out into space and regress into the inner workings of my own mind (as I oft do), it helps to achieve clarity when looking upon a blank space.How often do we get to converse, undeterred these days? How often do we get to think, without other inputs? It’s a gift, these minimalist walls. 

Likewise, when I walk into a home teeming with things, I immediately feel a difference in my ability to breathe. Never you mind whether said things are stuffed safely in a closet, or organized neatly into stacks on a shelf, but it’s almost as if I can smell the mustiness (things DO have a smell). In smaller living quarters, the quality of air more poignantly matters, and I like breathing in the emptiness. The walls bleed a sense of calm that I cannot explain but can within my bones feel. 

So if you ask me about small space living and a means to make them feel less small, start with these havens of white. My mantra of ‘do nothing’ stands. Allow for these sacred walls to elicit more by having less: more meaningful conversations, more in-depth thinking, more breathing room, more living space, more freedom, more possibility. 

Does any one else feel the same?

For those wondering, our walls are painted this Sherman Williams shade of egret white.

 

Curating Closets: Buying the Funky, Old, and Unloved

I have always been a proponent of finding beauty in the unwanted. To a fault. It goes hand-in-hand with my tendency to be a voice for the unheard, a lover of the unloved, et cetera. With this comes a weakness for all things old, musty-smelling, faded, and used. If you’d like to glam the imagery up some, you could call it ‘vintage’. The list includes books with yellowing pages, wooden furniture with chips and nicks, and thick, woolly sweaters amidst retro clothing racks. So this past weekend, when one of my favorite coffee spots, Daydream Surfshop, announced a 40% off Sale on all items, with part of the proceeds being donated to Planned Parenthood (see last post), I knew I was going with the intention to support, and, well, purchase.

Reconciling with Stepping Outside the System

So how does one who keeps a minimalist closet allow for a vintage item? I will admit that these pieces don’t neatly fall into the SYSTEM typically established by a ‘minimalist’ (referring to black and white color schemes and streamlined shapes), but there is still an intentionality about them. Let me remind that first and foremost, minimalism is defined by the owner, and the term does not equate to having as few items as possible. It boils down to being mindful of what you allow to take space in your life. That being said, I find that a few unique pieces that fall outside of your system add character and, dare I say, F-U-N, to one’s clothing line. Sure, too many such pieces could cause a disconnect with your outfits, and would impede the wearability of said piece which may limit its use, but a handful of funk never hurt anyone. Plus, if you love it, you love it. There are minimalists whose closets are filled with articles of clothing in every color of the rainbow, yet daily use of said pieces make it a successfully curated closet. The goal of any clothing curator is this: let no piece go forgotten, or unworn, for a long period of time. In other words, let no piece be left unloved.

Buying Something Broken

The thing about buying vintage, or just plain used, is the fact that someone else loved that item before you. Which means, it probably suffered from daily wear (or at least, that’s the hope). When I was perusing through the clothing racks, I was drawn towards a few items, including chunky cable-knit sweaters (it WAS a rainy day in May, after all), Levi’s denim, and white linens with the occasional crochet. All of which happened to have a defect — a stain on some white sweater, a rip in the jeans, a snag in the wool or fine lace. Every item had a mark that seemed to scream to the world, “I’ve been around since the ’80s!”

At first, I was hesitant to purchase. As a frugalist, where I spend my money really matters, and buying broken things seemed very anti-frugalist, yes? But as a person, I also believe that our purchasing power is a statement, a vote cast towards the future we want to see, and choosing to buy used and broken meant preventing yet one more thing to enter the land-fill, meant loving something that most people don’t, and meant being just a tad less focused on vanity. I went through a number of items with strong consideration for each, and rationalized the purchase of ONE piece with the help of Mr. Debtist. ONE because I am still curating, after all! I ended up choosing a thick wool sweater that made me want to isolate myself in a wood cabin in the middle of winter, with a mug of coffee, a bread oven, and a book. Mayhaps I’m not as ready for the summer as I once thought… This particular sweater had a hole near the bottom where I could stick two thumbs through. Due to its knitted nature, I knew it would be irreparable and that gentle care would forever be granted. The purchase was made to support a rad local coffee shop, to stand as a vote for an individual’s right to have a say about how to treat their own bodies, to be an effort to create a closed loop system when it comes to fashion, and to remind myself that a snag in a sweater, and any consequent judgement caused by it, is irrelevant to its worth. 

Standing Up for the Unloved

I walked out of the shop wearing my new (old) thick, cable-knit sweater on my back, and headed to my parents house for the rest of the one day off. When we arrived, my mom commented on the “nice” sweater as she went in for her customary hug hello. I proceeded to tell her that I had just gotten it that day from a vintage store, and as she pulled away, she asked me aghast, “You mean it’s USED?! EW!” Instead of being offended (long gone are the days when anything my mom says would offend me), I used it as an opportunity to talk about the importance (to me) of trying to create a more sustainable fashion industry. I started to show her the hole, wherein she interrupted and reprimanded me for foolishly buying something so ‘unfixable’. To which I suggested, perhaps, it does not need fixing.

I wasn’t commenting in order to start an argument or to defend my pride. Instead, I like to use these moments to start conversations. Standing up for the unloved is a hard thing to do, especially when your “life decisions” are being judged as questionable, usually by people whose opinions you most value. But I find it very easy to stand rooted in the confidence that every action I take is right by me. That’s all we can ever do. So, although my mom didn’t seem convinced that the sweater rightly belonged anywhere other than the next dumpster, she did hear me and my stance, stopped her berating and moved on to happier things.

Simple Comforts: Candlesticks

My general stance on adding conveniences into our lives in the form of objects huddles around the idea that most times, we can do without. Partly, this stems from the need to keep items in the home to a minimum, for my sanity’s sake, but also, from a grade-A-neat-freak’s wish to keep the house always tidy, without doing the work frequently. Luckily, my upbringing has trained me well to do without. Mum’s always got some saying or other to motivate my siblings and I to toughen the skin, and push through with what we were given to get one thing or another accomplished. Comforts were not exactly at the fore-front of her mind, what with starving children back home from the country whence we came. We can survive a little cold water shower mid-California-winter. We can survive yet another round of rice and beans for dinner (and lunch). We’ve triumphed through 90-degree summer days without air-conditioning, and warmed each other with smiles instead of heaters in the cold winter months.

But I was shocked at how miserably I fared when Mike and I decided to step off the grid and do a three day hike through farmlands in New Zealand. Mostly, I blame the weather for being wet, rainy, windy, and cold. Hiking uphill to an elevation of 700 meters within 6 kilometers was hard enough without the mud, tall wet-grass, cow and sheep manure, and slippery boulders. Interestingly, what I couldn’t mentally overcome was knowing that we were going to end our hikes in really, reaaaalllllyyy old buildings, some lacking electricity, or indoor toilets for that matter. One of the farm homes that we stayed at was so old that it was actually the THIRD home ever erected by a European in New Zealand. Cobwebby doorways and a two minute trek to an outdoor porta-potty was what I had to look forward to mid-hike. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, there were some joys that I really miss, now that I’ve returned to the year 2019.

Oh the joys of outdoor porta-pottys.

On the third night of our three-day trek, we stayed at a place without electricity. I didn’t realize then but I do now, that it was a joyously pleasant stay. Showering outdoors facing a tree trunk was an exhilarating experience, once I got used to ignoring the large green spider near my foot. Other hikers took pleasure in taking an outdoor bath, warming their water by lighting a fire underneath the tub! Sitting on a wooden plank was mandatory, lest you burn your bum on the hot porcelain above the open flame. Joint efforts in keeping the cabin warm by stuffing acorns, newspapers and just the right-sized log in the stove were joyous. Cooking our meals and dining as a “family” by candle light made our relations all the more special. Of all those memories, it was the candlesticks that got me. That simple comfort was what I have the fondest memory of.

When I was little and still residing in the Philippines, thunderstorms were a regular occurrence. Which meant that electricity frequently failed us. Much childhood-reading and dinner-making was done by candle light. I have memories of quiet nights of story-telling as well as rambunctious nights of pretend talent shows, all lighted by a yellow, flickering glow.

Traveling to Banks Peninsula was like time travel. Not only did the way of life change, like wringing out clothes with a mechanical machine, or hanging them up on logs above our heads, raised via a pulley system and thus making one feel like you were living in the pre-Industrial era. But also, memories that I haven’t thought of in a long while have re-surfaced. Those of my mom sitting in a bathtub and soaking in some peace and rest, reading her book by a single flame. Of moments kneeling on cement floors, praying the rosary in its entirety during times of religious holiday. Of making hand puppets on a blank white wall and giggling uncontrollably. Of trying to do homework before bed-time, when it’s taken more than an afternoon to complete. Do all children have such memories of candle light?

So yes, now that I am back, once again surrounded by modern day commodities, I am feeling a little nostalgic of the candle sticks that we burned in that isolated place. Isn’t it weird, the things that linger? And while I am all for doing without modern conveniences, I’m now of the mind that I can’t do without a candelabra and candle sticks in my home. Should we use limiting electricity as an excuse? If I add this one thing in my life, does occasionally ridding the self of light bulb usage make it okay? I can tell I’m sounding too desperate in justifying this. Nevertheless, obsessing over candle holders for the moment. While vintage stores will probably give me the best (and most sustainable) finds, here are a few new age ones that are also attractive.

More practically, anyone got any candelabras they’d like to de-clutter? Preferably from Grandma, brownie points for brass? I’m all ears (and heart eyes)!

The Practice of Hair Humility

Every two years, around this time, I chop off my hair. I have been doing this since I was in my early twenties. It’s an act against vanity, as well as a reminder to be gracious, giving, and humble.

When I was a really young girl, I was always asked the question, “What do you love most about yourself?” Not socially aware enough to say non-physical traits (I wish I was wise enough to say “my smarts!” or “my courage!”), I always answered with “My hair.” Mostly, it was socially learned. Adults would always croon over my hair, begging to braid it or comb it. They’d exclaim how long, straight, and glossy my hair looked, how well it behaved. No one ever wanted to croon over my smarts.

In middle school during my pre-teen years, I would wake up at 6 a.m. every day and curl my hair with a curling iron. I learned how to curl my hair at 12 years old. It would take me an hour or so, which wasn’t bad considering I had so much of it and I had not-so-nimble child-like hands. My hair is stick straight, so by the time I showered after school, I would have straight hair again and I couldn’t wait to re-curl my hair the next morning. Oh the joy of being young and having so much time on your hands! When I started high school, I always had my hair done up. I would check my hair during every break to make sure it still had volume, and would curse the weather (or the gods) whenever my hair fell short. I took pride in getting haircuts frequently, every month or so, and changing up my hairstyle often.

At some point, in high school, I read the book The Little Women. When I read of Jo sacrificially cutting off her long locks in order to buy medicine for ailing Mr. March, a chord struck. I started noticing advertisements of children with illnesses, adults with cancer, elderly people suffering from alopecia. I felt oddly sickened by my own behavior towards my hair, the way I prize it, revere it almost. In a way, I was made aware of my vanity, and knew that I wanted to live a different way.

So I chopped off my hair. I packaged it neatly and sent it in to Locks of Love. The first time I did this was in my late teens.

In my early twenties, I decided to start making it a habit. I would dutifully grow my hair to a long length, only to cut it again. Typically, it takes me two years, and the yearning to cut it falls somewhere around the New Year. Sometimes, I want to cut it or trim it when it’s in it’s awkward stages, but doing so slows down the re-growing process, so I resist. Sometimes, when it’s short, I want it to stay short, but I don’t allow myself the luxury. And sometimes, when it’s long and I am heading in for a haircut, a small part of me wishes I could keep it long for a while longer. But the urge doesn’t last.

Cutting my hair keeps me grounded, and it keeps me humble. Additionally, it simplifies my life. I generally know when to cut my hair, and when to grow it. When I do cut it, the options are limited. Most times, the minimum required length determines the hairstyle I receive. I usually don’t care too much about it. I try to remember that hair is just hair and it will grow back. The act of cutting my hair reminds me to care more about who I am and how I treat others than about how I look. It’s an extreme form of intentional action. I am grateful for the gift of hair, but am even more grateful that I am able gift it and let it go. It’s all just another part of creating a lifestyle by design.

Gift Guide: Day Planners for a Simpler Year

I’m a paper person. I love everything about paper. I love the smell of fresh blank pages as much as I love the smell of weathered sheets, yellowing around the edges and bound together by a thick leather spine. I love the warmth of paper just born, hot off the press. I love thick canvas-y types that I can throw globs of paint on equally as much as tissue paper gently stuffed in a bag. I love the way pencil sounds when it scratches the surface, and the way pen indents, making its permanent marks. I guess you can say that I am a bit crazy about paper, that I have a major paper crush

It makes sense, then, that I lean heavily in favor of all things paper. Books over Kindles, notepads over Iphone notes, mailed letters over text messages, and off course, planners over E-Calendars. Every year, there is one particular Christmas wish that I ask for, which is a new planner to start off the new year. Staying organized is part of the way I create a simpler lifestyle, and although electronic versions of calendars and planners are much more eco-friendly, they are just not as… how to put it… exhilarating? Writing things down via pen is certainly much more inspiring and to-do-list making and crossing off tasks on said list are extremely satisfying. Okay, okay, call me a nerd, but a nerd teeming with ideas, hopes, and a plethora of possibilities.

Before I leave you be with a list of favorites that I have had my eye on, I just want to dismantle the common misconception that a planner is yet another boring stocking stuffer. A planner is practical, yes, but also a very very personal thing. I liken a planner to a perfume, each person with their own particular style and it takes a great degree of intimacy to know just the planner that’s right for a person. Additionally, planners are life-changing, quite literally. It is a space to collect goals, ideas, and, well, plans, for a better tomorrow. And everyone deserves a better tomorrow, no?

So here’s to planners, for all. How do you create a simpler year? 

For the lover of time tables and charts and the list maker. 

For the goal digger and the project planner. 

For those seeking self-care and self-awareness and for those seeking activity.

For the minimalist and the mini lover.

Gift Guide: For Eco-Friendly Habit Shifts

I recently wrote about how we could use gifts as a way to change younger generations’ perceptions of STUFF, but today, I want to share how we (now) can use gifts to help shape the tomorrow we want to see. Here are some gift ideas to help those around you curb their waste in the new year. Not only could it save them money by eliminating single use items from their grocery lists, it could do the environment a world of good.

+ Net produce sack or linen produce bag

+ Wool dryer balls  or suede cleaning brush

+ Wooden pot brush or dish brush

+ Stainless steel straw and a straw brush

+ Recyclable toothbrush and toothpaste

+ Washable towels or reusable facial rounds

+ Reusable coffee filter or mesh tea infuser

+ A KeepCup or Reusable water bottle

+ Portable reusable cutlery set or stainless steel to-go containers

How about you? What are some favorite eco-friendly gifts on your list?

Related Posts

Simple, Sustainable Gift Wrap

I am not one to take in an eye-sore kindly. I would call that one of my biggest flaws. Things just have to be aesthetically pleasing to be pleasing to me. For that, I am sorry. So when it comes time to start putting presents under the tree, it follows that I cannot just shove them there, unwrapped. It isn’t that I feel the need for another person to be surprised, although surprises are quite nice. It’s that I need the presents to look cohesive, for my own sanity. Which brings me to the following dilemma: less waste for a time of the year when gifts abound.

Last year, I wrote about the art of furoshiki gift wrapping, as a means to produce absolutely zero waste by using excess fabric lying about the house. But after a year has come and gone, I am without any more fabric left to wrap gifts in. It appears that everyone wanted to keep the fabric pieces for their own re-use. This year, I find a not-so-perfect zero waste (zero-ish waste? less waste?) solution from the following:

+ Less gifts, in general. Call me Einstein, but with less gifts comes less gift wrap, and therefore, less waste. This year, I have narrowed down our gifts to ten. That includes required Secret Santa’s at work and holiday parties, and our most immediate family members. Part of this comes from our public renouncement of the gifting of material things, right this way.

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+ Simple methods of wrapping. One of the very first memories I have of being conscious of my wasteful lifestyle involves wrapping gifts at Christmas time. I was 20 years old and I had volunteered to help my aunt wrap the gifts for my cousins (all forty-something of them). I was previously taught by my mother how to make gifts look pretty by adding in additional folds in the wrapping paper and using multiple bows. By scrapping sticker tags when my hand-writing was too ugly to bear. I went about my usual methods of wrapping gifts when my aunt questioned why I was folding the wrapping paper in such a way. I replied, “Because it looks pretty.” To which she laughed and said, “It wastes paper.” Confused, I didn’t understand why that mattered. Off course, my mind mulled the comment over and over again in my head as I continued to wrap. By the end of the wrapping session, I was embarrassed at the waste of gift wrap that I had cost my aunt. I was embarrassed of my frivolous lifestyle. And I saw a glimpse into the world of minimalism that I had yet to discover. Nowadays, I just wrap the paper once around, barely enough to cover the good, and call it a day. A more refined self finds this way of wrapping more attractive anyway.

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Simple materials. I avoid plastic as if I was allergic to it, that you may already know. These days, I find comfort in choosing materials that are natural, biodegradable, or at the very least, recyclable. For Christmas this year, I’ve stuck with twine, string, paper wrap (the non-glossy kind), brown boxes, and re-usable stamps. The color scheme itself is simple, making it easy for me to satisfy my need for cohesiveness. To fill excess spaces in the boxes, I’ve opted not to purchase tissue paper, but rather, use left-over packing paper that has survived our move into our new home a few months ago.

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+ Less wrapping of the gift wrap themselves. If I have to buy gift wrap in order to appease my need to have everything look cohesive, may it be the least-dressed gift wrap there is. This tip goes out to the minimalist (or minimalist hopefuls), to the environmentalists, to the pursuers of mindful living. This year, I went to a local stationary store (and by local, I mean I live across the street from it), and chose a brown paper gift wrap rolled up sans one of those cardboard rolls that you typically find in the center of a tootsie pop wrapping paper. Additionally, it was not wrapped up in cellophane, as they usually are. It was held together by a piece of paper detailing the company from which it came. I also purchased paper tape, with a little green decorative charm, holiday-esque enough to spruce up plain brown boxes (see what I did there?). I purchased yarn that was wound around a cardboard roll, and without the plastic covering (why are they even necessary?!). Lastly, I whipped out my wooden stamp collection and cut up a piece of sketch pad paper to make the name tags. All of this to say, it doesn’t take much to appease my need for pretty. We don’t have to indulge our presents in excessive gift wrap, but I am completely okay with allowing myself something simpler. It’s not perfectly zero-waste, but we can’t always be beating ourselves up for their inabilities to be perfect. We are, after all, human. The point is, we try.

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Decluttering A Shoe Closet with Nisolo’s Shoe Reclamation Program + Get $30 OFF!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I have a fairly minimalist shoe closet, but it was not always so. I am the first to admit my past self’s infatuation with owning shoes, and at my highest point, when I embarked on this journey of minimalism in a state of constant overwhelm from being surrounded by so much STUFF, I counted more than fifty pairs! Embarrassingly, a majority of which were cheaply made goods of mostly plastic materials, undoubtedly constructed in less than ideal working conditions. My shoe collection now is a fraction of my past, but I still likely wouldn’t pass the Instagram and Pinterest-worthy versions of what a  minimalist shoe collection entails. But who wants their image to fit in a box? All I know is that I am less wasteful and much pickier about adding to my collection. So how did I get from point A to point B?

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Certainly, not without a whole lot of anguish caused by the realization that in order to de-clutter, the shoes had to go elsewhere. And where else might shoes go after being worn by particular feet? I will guarantee you that not many people out there are willing to wear well-loved shoes. And when there are no people wanting your shoes, what fate is there left to befall them but to (try) to return to the Earth? Despite all hope of plastic products bio-degrading eventually, deep down we all know that they will never disappear quickly enough.

Thankfully, a shoe reclamation program with Nisolo exists to increase the longevity of your kicks, while also giving to those in need. I myself participated in the reclamation program a month ago, when more of my shoes were considered unnecessary and ready to be passed on. Creating a more circular fashion model, this system ensures that products and their materials are reused and recycled. In partnership with Soles4Souls, the shoes donated will be given to micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries, such as Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Moldova and other countries in Africa, for a chance to clean, repair, and re-sell unwanted shoes. These micro-entrepreneurs are given the chance to start their own small business when they would normally not have the resources to do so. Additionally, the shoes are being redistributed to an under-served local population. Nisolo’s goal is to collect 5,000 shoes by 2020. Last month, our household donated six pairs. In return for your donation, Nisolo will give you a $30 OFF discount code for every pair of shoes donated, to be used at their shop at any time. If you’d like to join the movement, here’s how.

I speak about this program in the hopes that those looking to live a life of less can do so with a sigh of relief, rather than with heavy hearts. Additionally, I write in preparation for #GivingTuesday, a day fueled by social media on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to get people rethinking about what it truly means to give. If you are preparing for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, perhaps you’d like to pre-emptively donate shoes, in order to receive a discount code to be used at checkout. More importantly, as the holiday season approaches, may we remember not to be entangled in the “giving process” so much as to tie our wallets down in the name of gifting. Instead, may we look to those in need and ask ourselves the question of how we can make a difference and bring joy.

For those interested in my shoe collection, here is a list of my shoes as they are depicted in the photos, left to right, top to bottom.
Cover photo: Heeled boot from Everlane (a similar one here), Elizabeth Slides from Nisolo, Sofia Slip Ons from Nisolo (a similar shoe)
Photo 1: Harper Chukkas from Nisolo (a similar one here), Paloma Mule from Nisolo, Smoking Shoe from Nisolo
Photo 2: Clifton Sneakers from Eileen Fisher, Huaraches from Nisolo
Photo 3: Isla Slide from Nisolo