A blog about health, wellness and well-being, with advice on how to achieve it... from your inner depth to your outer surface.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 27 - The faces of minimalism

massmarrier, Flickr

By an interesting twist of fate - or, more aptly said, because I took advantage of my summer vacation to visit my mother, who lives 1500 km away - I ended up spending a few days in a house that, at first glance, is the epitome of anti-minimalism.

Not counting the mud room, workshop, attic, loft, basement and garage, my mother's house is over 5000 square feet, with ceilings 11 feet high and windows taller than me, and boasts 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, formal living and dining rooms, 2 sun rooms, 1 library/music room, a sauna, a large kitchen with walk-in pantry, 4 fireplaces + 1 cast iron stove, 2 stairways (one of which leads to what was originally the servants' quarters), many alcoves, built-in bookshelves, tons of storage space, and lots of architectural wonders. I'm not even mentioning the spacious decks and garden (and wooded area). 

Two people live in there, namely, my mother and her partner.

Without being overwhelmingly cluttered per se, the house is also filled with massive furniture, antiques, works of art, paintings big and small, mirrors, sculptures, figurines, fine books, porcelains and crystals, beautiful rugs, all gathered during numerous travels around the world. When my mother's good friend called the house "a museum", she was at least partly right. (As for me, I am seriously considering writing a story based on the fascinating building, its contents and its surroundings.)

Surely, this looks and sounds like a life of luxury, and in some ways, it is. Past the first impression, however, there are many ways in which the two inhabitants of that house embrace at least some aspects of minimalism, perhaps not in terms of dollars spent and objects owned, but definitely in terms of healthy, environmentally-friendly choices.

  • They bought an already existing house and piece of land, as opposed to building on a new lot.
  • They upgraded it with energy efficient roof, windows, heating/cooling system, lighting, etc.
  • They both work from home, so the house doubles as an office for the two of them. Consequently, they do not commute, they only need one vehicle, and don't use it daily. They also do not need work clothes.
  • They rarely go "to town", avoiding most consumerist temptations.
  • They are very mindful of electricity use and water use, don't watch TV, and dry their clothes on the line.
  • They cook from scratch 95% of the time, using almost exclusively organic fruit and vegetables from their garden, and organic eggs and meat from small local producers.
  • They make their own bread, yogurt, preserves, and canned goods. They don't buy packaged foods, prepared meals or bottled water.
  • They compost, reuse and recycle everything (including seeds from the previous years).
  • They use natural cleaning products.
  • They play an active role in local matters, advocating for environmentally-friendly practices throughout the community.
  • They both quit demanding and high-paying careers (one in finance, one as a physician) to refocus on something they actually love to do and requires less hours per week, albeit being significantly less lucrative.

All in all, it might still not qualify as a frugal life, but some conscious choices are made. Minimalism has many faces: you can live in small quarters and own few things. You can aim for self-subsistance and the smallest footprint possible. You can be mindful of what you do with your money and time. Minimalism is also a process: you start where you are, and you make your way toward simplicity.

Where are you at, simplicity wise? Where do you want to get?


Observations and cogitations

Being on vacation has been the ultimate test for consumption. Especially when strolling through big cities in which wonderful stores filled with wonderful things abound, and in which people dress and drive with style. Most of us will probably never be able to afford the Maserati I saw, but we might still want to indulge in quality clothes, objects, food and drinks - at least occasionally. Doing so would be okay... especially if it's a treat, and as long as it's done mindfully. It all comes down to the concept of choice: what am I going to obtain from the purchase of goods and services? Is it worth my money and, if it's an object, is it worth the space it will take in my house and the dust it might gather? Is it worth the environmental impact?

This year, instead of walking in stores thinking "If I see something I like and/or a good bargain, I will buy it", I kept in mind the things we really needed, such as new shoes for the kids, a few specific items of clothing for us, and a new air mattress for camping. Those are the only things we bought. We saw many other beautiful objects, but instead of acquiring them, we simply admired them in passing. It was a nice opportunity to explain to the kids that "just because you like something and can afford it, doesn't mean you should get it".

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 26 - Wardrobe dilemmas

Halfway point!

Last week, we went over the basic items one must own in order to fulfill all material (and some non-material) needs. 

This week, we will focus more specifically on the contents of your wardrobe.

If you spend long minutes deciding what to wear each morning, or worse, feel like none of your clothes really fits you all that well, you might benefit from a complete wardrobe overhaul.

And for that, why not use the traveler's wisdom? Traveling wardrobe tips might apply to regular wardrobe more than we think.

Rules your clothes should follow

The clothes you own, just like the clothes you would take on a trip, should be...

Clothes that fit. That sounds simple enough, but is there any wardrobe out there that does NOT contain "clothes that used to fit" or "clothes that will - hopefully - fit again one day"? You wouldn't put clothes that don't fit  in your suitcase; don't keep them at home either.

Clothes that make you feel wonderful, both in terms of comfort and look. Anything else can be discarded. Really. You know those pieces that immediately transform you in a a) younger b) slimmer c) more radiant self as soon as you put them on? Those are the types of clothes you want to buy, and keep. If it does not awaken the fantastic in you, let it go. 

Clothes that are versatile and multipurpose, i.e. that you can "mix and match" in many different ways. At home or on the road, time and space are precious. Don't waste them by keeping pieces of clothing that only fit with one thing or can only be worn in one occasion.

Clothes that are efficient. Another great tip to save on space is to choose fabrics that provide the most warmth per weight and thickness. Merino wool is one of my favorites.

Clothes that are low-maintenance. Even people who actually enjoy ironing (I am one of those freaks) have other, more interesting things to do. When you travel especially, you want fabrics that will look good after being squished (or rolled) in a suitcase, and that will also dry quickly after a wash.

Clothes that offer the most bang for your buck. Sometimes, it's worth buying quality clothing: it might cost more, but it will last longer, and the fit, feel and look will make you want to wear it more often than any "cheap" item. This is not to say that good clothing has to be expensive (plus, you could always buy second-hand), but quality often is worth it. If you buy quality, you don't need a bigger budget: you'll buy better... and you'll buy LESS.

In addition to those guidelines, may I recommend that when you travel, you avoid whites and dark reds? (I am not talking about wine here.) The first gets stained too easily, the second will ruin everything else when you do a load of laundry. Stick to "medium" colors such as beige, light brown, grey, khaki. They match with everything. Adorn them with a splash of color, and you are good to go.

What about accessories?

Your accessories should follow the same rules as your clothes: few, versatile, good quality pieces will go a long way. This applies to bags, shoes, jewelry, etc. Let's admit it, we all have a handful of favorites when it comes to accessories. Everything else can find a better life in someone else's home. Donate it.

It's all in the numbers

Discarding many items will follow logically from a mindful approach to your wardrobe. This should not be scary. It should be exciting! I
f there was ever a time to adopt the trendy concept of "capsule wardrobe", it's now! Whether you do it gradually or cold turkey, I can promise you will fully enjoy the benefits. At home, you will love having a small number of great options. On the road, additional benefits will include taking only one small suitcase. As a seasoned traveller, I have perfected the art of fitting all my belongings in a carry-on, which allows me to walk right past the luggage carousel in airports. I love it! On my latest trip, a 2½ weeks vacation that included both city and wilderness activities, I took a total of 20 items of clothing (which includes outerwear and sleepwear but excludes underwear).

What clothing dilemmas do you face? What clothing resolutions are you ready to make?

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 25 - What you really need

Manoj Kengudelu, Flickr

“[A traveller] should carry with him two bags: one very full of patience, the other containing two hundred Venetian ducats, or at least one hundred and fifty … Above all he should take plenty of fruit syrup, because that is what keeps a man alive in extreme heat; and also ginger syrup to settle his stomach if it is upset by too much vomiting.” 
Santo Brasca, Viaggio in Terrasanta

Soon, many of us will go on vacation. Whether it's for a weekend of camping or for a month-long trip abroad, we will have to chose what we pack and what we leave behind. 

Many seasoned travelers find that they keep bringing less stuff on each trip... because when you have to carry your belongings around, or pack them in a car, less really becomes more. My friends have teased me about how little I put in my bag or suitcase (which, in turn, can be relatively small), but I love having only one compact piece of luggage to carry, quickly finding what I'm looking for, and being ready in minutes.

Traveling is a great way to reassess what we really need. Here is a travel-list based exercise on true needs. The only things you really need are:

  1. A shelter that will keep you warm and dry and safe (or fresh and away from the sun) in all seasons.
  2. Something to provide light (unless you plan to go to bed at 5 pm in the winter).
  3. Something to sleep on that's reasonably comfortable (including some bedding).
  4. Something to sit on.
  5. A horizontal surface to work on (cooking, writing, etc.)
  6. A way of communicating (phone).
  7. Access to clean water.
  8. Reasonable amounts of reasonably healthy food.
  9. A way to store that food and water for a few days.
  10. Something to cook on.
  11. A small number of pots, containers, dishes and utensils.
  12. Something to wash dishes in, something to wash dishes with.
  13. Clothes and shoes that keep you warm and dry (or fresh), that are comfortable, and that you feel good in - for all seasons and different types of activities.
  14. Something to wash clothes in, something to wash clothes with.
  15. Some way of drying clothes (air dry is best).
  16. Access to some form of toilet and some form of shower.
  17. Basic toiletries to keep clean and groomed (think body, hair and teeth).
  18. Eyesight items and products.
  19. Medication (if you need any).
  20. A towel and hand towel or two, and a few facecloths.
  21. Some way of carrying or storing your things (bags, baskets, shelves, drawers, etc.)
  22. Some tools for repairs, plus rope, tape, etc.
  23. Some cleaning materials (you can go a long way with a broom and dustpan, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and a few rags).
  24. A first aid kit.
  25. Some form of entertainment (a book, a creative project).
  26. Some way to make and/or listen to music.
  27. A handful of mementos or beautiful objects (as few as possible).
  28. If you need it for freelance work, a laptop.
  29. A means of locomotion (could be your feet, public transport, a bike, and if necessary, a car).

Anything else than this is, for all intents and purposes, superfluous. Any of the above items also becomes superfluous when you own more than one or two of it. Any belonging should be ditched if it's not used on a regular basis. Whatever we chose to own should be the result of a conscious, informed choice.

As you gradually give less importance to stuff (including the acquisition, maintenance, cleaning, and transportation thereof), you might find yourself giving more importance to meaningful relationships, meaningful activities, and all sorts of wonderful things. What will they be?


Donations (good riddance)

Summer clothes are under scrutiny. Anything that doesn't fit or doesn't please is put away. There's already a small pile ready to go. 

Observations and cogitations

Tidying up the house used to take hours. It now takes minutes, thanks to the much lower amount of stuff lying around. I am loving the look and feel of my surroundings, and I am loving the time I save!

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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