28 February 2012

Simple Living Tip: Careful What You Wish For



This post has been brewing in my mind for a month now. It all started with the surprising death of my laptop right before the beginning of the Simple Living Challenge. I couldn't figure out how I was going to manage a three-week challenge on a tiny 10 inch screen (that is how big our spare machine is) but I decided this was my challenge in real life.I wanted simple living and that was exactly what I got - no chance for too much work, because that tiny laptop was slow as well.

And the challenge began. 

Hour after hour I spent open-hearted and positive about what we were doing until I got the most amazing of laptops, the L520 from Lenovo - the greenest ever ThinkPad. Oh, were we a match made in heaven! Amazing machine - fast, sturdy, reliable - a dream come true for a heavy user like me! What is more, it is made from materials that use up to 30% post-consumer content, meaning it was made out of  office-sized water jugs and used IT equipment, recycled into parts like the LCD cover, palm rests, and top/bottom case. My laptop even saves the equivalent of 10 plastic water bottles. Additionally, it promises to save me up to 40% per year on operating costs and power. Was I glad to show off my environmentally friendly machine to Beth Terry!





27 February 2012

A Portrait of the Artist: Fianaturals



Welcome back to A Portrait of the Artist after 3 challenging weeks of simple living. I hope you are ready for some creative handmade love and inspiration!

Photo by Mauricio Lopez
Today I would like you to meet Fia, the amazing crafter behind Fianaturals. For quite some time I have been frequenting her etsy shop just so, to enjoy the vibrant colors of African seeds and beads. What impresses me about Fia is her firm belief that women could be beautiful while keeping their respect to the planet Earth. This is what led her to the idea of creating natural eco-friendly jewelry.

Every piece you see in her shop is a handmade, unique combination of natural stones, shells, wood, seeds and recycled glass. Nature is clearly the greatest inspiration behind Fianaturals and yo can feel her love of color and the ease with which she plays with color, just like the sun, passing through fluffy clouds and casting shadows down on the multi-colored ground.







24 February 2012

Welcome February Sponsors



Today, I would like to welcome you to the last Welcome Sponsors post as you know it. Yes, much has been going on around Kanelstrand lately and we are steadily moving up on all levels.

Starting March all Kanelstrand sponsors will be sharing their discounts with our newsletter subscribers, leading to a deeper level of contact between artists, designers and all of you, who appreciate handmade products! If you want to keep updated with all the amazing goodies offered through Kanelstrand I strongly encourage you to sign up for our free newsletter now!

There is yet another exciting news that has very much to do with the Kanelstrand sponsors and the increase of your interaction with them but I will keep it secret until it becomes reality next month.

Yay! I am excited with everything that is to come because it will not only increase the popularity of all Kanelstrand sponsors but it will increase your pleasure in getting to know them.





23 February 2012

Scandinavian Winter: February in Norway




This post is part of the Through the Looking Glass project. Click here to see the rest of the posts in the series.
 


This is just about all the snow we have left around here and it is still February, people! The thing is that, this is just about all the strength I have left after our amazing journey together in the past 3 weeks. 

As Beth Terry says it in a similar moment of visual disability: "I wish I could see you... but I can't!" I cannot concentrate my eyes on the screen and the right half of my head hurts. It is all coming from the eyes, so I took Laurie's advice and had  a short break. 

I went for a walk, alone in the woods. It was sunny but oh so cold, and the northern wind... let's just say that he is not a friend of mine... he makes me cry and stuffs my nose but there I was, kneeling behind a trunk, hiding from it, and in the shortest of quiet moments I felt the warmth of the sun. The grass, newly uncovered from under the snow was vibrantly green. I could smell the moist earth unfreezing after a long winter's sleep and when I looked up I saw the trees, sticking out from the ground like hands, aiming up, up, up to grab the stars.




22 February 2012

The Final Step: Gratitude



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

I am the kind of person who doesn't generally take it easy. When I have a goal, I hunt it down like a hound dog. If I get inspired, I loose my sleep. Everything in my life happens with an intensity of emotion that either makes me forget where I'm headed or leads me to a massive burn-out.

Photo: Kanelstrand

Most of my first-time projects are over-ambitious: perfect images of utopias existing only in my head. The thought that they are generally considered unachievable makes me work on them even harder. Yes, I overwork myself and yes, I see my projects through. And then, after inhuman efforts and days on the job, after I've received praises and admirations I let go and never want to go back... Trust me, it's not easy being me.




21 February 2012

Step 16: Celebrate Your Story



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Somewhere along our busy lives, where there is so much to buy, learn, and achieve we loose ourselves. Caught tightly between obligations, promises, agreements and disagreements life happens to us but we fail to notice it. We fail to live it to the fullest.

This is the second to last step in the Simple Living Challenge, and today I have invited Katie of Gadanke to help us stop and listen to our story. Because, really, we do deserve to live a deliberate life, we deserve a life enjoyed in good and bad.

Apart from making unique eco-friendly writing prompt journals for all occasions, Katie has been blogging about her handmade life. She aims to show her readers that a life of adventure and constant transition can be inspiring. On her blog you will find tutorials, handmade projects, challenges, tips for simpler and greener living, and lots of storycatching.


I believe an incredible thing happens when we pause to celebrate our stories. IT GIVES US MEANING. The ordinary starts to feel downright awesome. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to get distracted by stuff.

Are we good enough?
We’re being bombarded with these feelings that our lives aren’t good enough just how they are. We start believing that if we had xyz, our lives would be better. The problem with that, of course, is that the journey never ends. We always feel like we need the next thing. The desire for xyz never ends!





20 February 2012

Step 15: Wean Off Plastic



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

I spent a good deal of my life in blissful ignorance about plastic. I've never had a particular liking to it but I also didn't mind it too much. Until several years ago, when I started seeing more and more articles about the toxicity in plastic bottles and the dangers of plastic baby toys. At that point, my interest was purely personal, just like the one I had in makeup and cosmetics. But after opening my eyes to the plastic problem, I started seeing more - the amount of yogurt containers and milk boxes we were throwing away each week started to feel overwhelming.

I read about the increased accumulation of microplastic debris in the oceans coming from the waste-water of washing machines. The polyester and acrylic particles from my own clothes were going straight into the bodies of sea animals and back to me in the fish I was eating. I read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the terrible effects human consumerism has on innocent animals. Had I thought about them before? No. Did I want to hurt any animal? No way.

But what could I do, change industry? I didn't think so. At that point, I stumbled upon My Plastic Free Life - a website that opened my eyes to another reality - a single person CAN make a difference!

Beth Terry, the founder of My Plastic Free Life (previously known as Fake Plastic Fish) is joining us today for a powerful push towards simple living. Because plastic, the symbol of modern disposable life, is one of the greatest obstacles on our way to deliberate and inoffensive living.

Beth has been blogging since 2007, collecting and tallying her own plastic waste (in 2011 her plastic waste reached the minute 2% of the U.S. average!) and researching plastic-free alternatives.

Apart from receiving truthful information about the impact of plastic, on her website you can get encouragement to learn more about your habits by examining your garbage and calculating your plastic footprint. You can collect your plastic waste (both recyclable and non) for one week or more. Then photograph, tally, and post it on the Plastic Trash Challenge page. 

Before you go on to Beth's plastic-free interview, I would like to let you in on another great news -  you can already pre-order Beth's book, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, which is going to be released in April 2012.




19 February 2012

Weekend DIY: Creative Reuse of Spoons



So you thought spoons were for eating, right? But what next? What happens when they get "downgraded" to antiques and get into the hell of spoons - a dark forgotten drawer?

Today I have news for you, spoons in far and distant corners, you will be awakened to the afterlife of glamorous usefulness again. With just a little love you can be transformed into placeholders and reclaim your place on the table, only you will be starring in a new role; or you can be worn as shiny rings on a gentle ladies' fingers.

I am enchanted by repurposing and that is why today I want to bring to your attention two DIY projects that include exactly that - the creative reuse of objects with a totally different first "call".

The first project features amazing photos and you can easily follow it even without reading the instructions. For those of you who like rustic decoration, these spoons reborn as name cards will be the main conversation starter.

Photos courtesy of elizabethannedesigns.com

What you need to make the hammered spoon place cards is, among other things, a hammer or two, a metal stamp set, some sand paper and a lot of excitement! Visit the step-by-step tutorial on elizabethannedesigns.com.

If you are in the mood for old-time flirting, why not consider making a spoon ring! I have been continuously impressed with the way forks and spoons change their purpose - from a tool for eating to a piece of jewelry. What an amazing journey! But do you know the history of spoon rings?

According to popular belief they originated in the 17th century and were used as wedding bands by servants, who usually were too poor to buy real rings. Silver spoon rings have remained popular through the years and even nowadays they are a common choice for showing commitment.

Here is a video that impressed me some months ago and made me roam the thrift stores to find a silver spoon and try it out myself!


What are you crafting today?



17 February 2012

Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

You may wonder how cosmetics relate to simple living. Well, it's simple. Buying cosmetics shares one common feature with buying clothes - consumerism. Someone, at some point in history managed to persuade us women that we aren't beautiful enough just as we are. I know this has happened long time ago, somewhere in the beginning of time, but while women employed natural beautifying products at the time, we no longer do that.

Nowadays we've been blackmailed and lured into buying, buying, buying all kinds of cosmetics that promise to help us be forever young.
Photo: Vancouver Film School
But there are countless toxic chemicals and parabens in almost every beautifying product you can afford to buy from shampoo to mascara.

What gets me most about this is that while you think you are cleansing your face with the latest lotion you are in fact stuffing yourself with harmful substances. The effects are devastating - from "harmless" rashes and allergies to cancer.

I would like to have the source of this illustration, but I don't. If you know where it comes from, please let me know, so I can link to them!
In Norway, girls as young as 12 start applying mascara and nail polish daily, and dyeing their hair. They go shopping with girlfriends to choose bras (at the age of 12 you can imagine how much there is to put in the bra) and makeup. And yes, they sell kids' makeup and kids' bras in the stores. You tell me how it is in your country but what I see here bothers me.

Big beauty business knows that the earlier they get you as a customer, the longer they will have you. That is a sign of what most women are - vain and insecure in their worth.

I remember an old tale about three ladies who are arguing which one of them has the most beautiful hands. Because they cannot decide they consult a man nearby. He looks at their hands, which are white, soft-skinned and delicate and points out to a woman working in the field next to them, who has dark, dry hands. He tells them that, in fact, she has the most beautiful of hands because they are put to use for the good of mankind.

This is what I would like to leave you with today. Our beauty is not on the outside. 
  • Positive thoughts and good character will bring the best of us on our faces. 
  • Healthy food and lifestyle will give us the best of complexion, hair and nails. 
  • Regular movement and sport will make our bodies fit. 
Nothing you can buy can help you conceal lack of said activities.

Because my way of thinking coincides with a progressive young lady's vision, I have teamed up with her today to back up my words. Taylor Lynn of Perfectly Sensible Nonsense compiled a video of women of all ages who embrace their natural beauty and are proud with it. This is her way of encouraging and inspiring us to love ourselves.

It is a pity that nowadays we have surrendered to the brainwash that we need makeup to be beautiful. We think that we need to look in a certain way in order to be attractive, and we don't feel worth looking at unless we have makeup on. Instead of feeling gorgeous naturally, we feel the need to cover up that natural beauty.

Taylor Lynn. all the gorgeous ladies who participated by sending their makeup-less photos and I want to tell you: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!



To learn more about how most of mass-produced cosmetics are killing you and how to replace them to reclaim your true, natural self, go to:

Share your experience: How much cosmetics and makeup do you need to feel beautiful? Can you challenge yourself to go out without makeup if you are addicted to it?

See also:



16 February 2012

Step 13: Declutter Your Life



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

"Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Albert Einstein
Much has been said about decluttering and much more is being discussed daily on blogs about simplifying and slowing down. I guess, the topic has become banal but that is usually a sign of intransitive importance.

I loved a sentence in Karen Lee's consumerism post of yesterday and I have to quote it today:
And, now, we are grappling with shortage of resources while we are living with garbage and clutter of "stuff" that we have to be encouraged to de-clutter and simplify.

Our greed or rather, misunderstood notion of well-being has turned us into pack rats. We have become slaves to our vices and with time we have learned to love this self-imposed slavery. But freedom is just the first step. Because after we have freedom of clutter we will lay the basis for freedom of mind. And when it comes to the mind, the sky is the limit.

Because there is an amazing number of information on the Internet about decluttering in any area of modern life, I would like to give you just a few points to think about before I list a few decluttering information sources for further reading. 

Photo via Pinterest

How we accumulate clutter
  • We love to identify with the stuff we own. It boosts our confidence and places us in a particular emotional spot, we think that the objects we own will show our belonging to a particular caste of people.

  • Humans have a natural tendency for over-stocking for rainy days. We all have it to some extent and while no two people are alike, I bet that even the most minimalistic of people, say for example Leo Babauta, can find a thing or two to declutter today.

Why would we want to clutter
Only a small percentage of people actually realize what they are doing while they stuff their homes with useless clutter. It is only after a little long while that some of us get a different perspective and wake up to a suffocating home.

So, the answer to this question is: We don't strive to clutter. Clutter happens when you are not careful what you buy, and most importantly when you don't ask yourself whether you need the things entering your house.

Why would we want to declutter
For all the good reasons of course! Clutter takes away energy and positivity from us.  I have woken up to a messy, cluttered house and I don't ever want to remember that feeling again. Even the thought of it burdens me. I like to start my days in a clean, uncluttered environment that will set the tone of the rest of my day.

I have noticed how my surroundings affect my thinking and working in a cluttered environment doesn't lead to creative results.

On the contrary, working, or just being in a clean, organized space gives space for my imagination to roam and I am able to enjoy even the most mundane of activities.

How to start decluttering
Start slow. Start small. But start.

You can set your timer on 20 minutes and devote them to a drawer, a shelf or a cupboard that needs a little decluttering love.

Big plans usually end up plans forever. Instead of overwhelming yourself with the idea of decluttering all your rooms in a week, take your journey one day at a time. You will keep your enthusiasm longer and you will have the job done!

Photo via Pinterest

How to stay decluttered
Read! No matter what promises you make to yourself, in a couple of months they will fade. To avoid frustration keep on reading time and again, go through decluttering stories, yes, I mean all those endless posts on all blogs. Just read and the decluttering bug will get to you sooner or later.

And to make sure you have materials to read, here is a list of useful posts on decluttering in all spheres of life:
  1. How to Declutter
  2. Ecokaren's 2012 Declutter Challenge 
  3. Five Ways to Simplify Your Virtual Life  
  4. Declutter Your RSS 
  5. A 3-Step Cure For Digital Pack Rats 
  6. Declutter Forever 
  7. Organizing 101: Resolve to Declutter 
  8. Declutter 101: Where Do I Start?

Share your experience: Do you think you are the cluttering type? Even if your answer is no, I challenge you to go ahead and open a drawer. Get rid of 5 things that you should have long time ago. Do you think you can do that tomorrow again? And the day after tomorrow, until you have only the most important and valuable objects left to serve you?

See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism 
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.





15 February 2012

Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Consumerism is a myth that we will be gratified and integrated by consuming. In fact, it is a pattern of behavior that helps to destroy our environment, personal financial health, the common good of individuals and human institutions. Ironically, due to its fictitious promises, consumerism is picked up unwittingly but its effects are invariably shattering.

Approximately 2 billion people around the world belong to the consumer class - feeding on processed food, striving for bigger houses, bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.

According to Global Issues in 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption; the poorest 20% for just 1.5%. Mind-boggling figures.
  
Today we are joined by a well-known figure in the eco spheres. Karen Lee is the captain of Team Eco Etsy, editor of Green Living Ideas and publisher of ecokaren. She is a mom to two greenagers and a wife to an accidental recycler. Karen will be speaking at a workshop for Martha Stewart's Dreamers into Doers Annual Conference on "How to green your business and save money". But today she has taken on the uncomfortable task of analyzing traditional American consumerism and helping us overcome its dominance.



American consumerism has been the way of life for most of us, most of our lives. McMansions popped up everywhere, surrounding major metropolises for as long as we can remember. We've filled them with 'stuff' and then, when we got bored with them or if they broke, we'd throw them out. Then, we'd either upgrade them for bigger and faster models or replace them with the latest and the shiniest. In an attempt to "improve" our lifestyle (according to the ads) and to keep up with the Joneses (according to the ads), we'd keep buying new stuff.

The cheaper pair of shoes
But don't blame yourself. It is not entirely your fault. Many companies entice us, no, "force" us into this absurd buying habits by producing poor quality goods that only last a few years. And you have no choice but to replace them whether you want to or not. According to Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff, it is called planned obsolescence. Companies purposely produce items that are actually cheaper to replace than to repair. In fact, some things are not possible to repair. Have  you tried repairing a pair of shoes that cost $29.99? Not possible. Good quality shoes that cost $150 can be repaired. But which shoes would an average American buy? The cheaper shoes.

How did this happen? How did we become such a disposable society?
You can blame it on the Industrial Revolution. Yup. The very thing that made our lives, supposedly better, made us become worse. Back in 1800's and early 1900's, American products were made with care, craftsmanship, and with quality in mind. In addition, we had to think carefully before purchasing things with our hard earned money. And when we did buy an item, we treated it well and if it broke, we repaired it. Can you imagine the pioneers throwing out anything before trying to fix it first?

Then, along came the industrial revolution and the assembly line. The factories cranked out appliances, cars, and combustible engines. The economy boomed and America was 'living it up". We were buying up television, phones, cruising in huge sedans and we were using up oil to manufacture them like it was never going to dry up. We didn't think about if natural resources would ever be gone and we never thought about the pollution problems either. With TV in every American's living room, we were endlessly subjected to provocative commercials for everything from cars, kitchen appliances, packaged foods, and toys for kids of all ages. We had no choice but to buy, buy, and buy.

The price we have to pay
But this mass production of products for a brief, cheap, consumer's thrill cost us a higher price than we realize. The production of unnecessary excess uses non-renewal energy and creates waste that eventually just sits idling in landfills forever.

And, now, we are grappling with shortage of resources while we are living with garbage and clutter of "stuff" that we have to be encouraged to de-clutter and simplify.

But what's more disheartening is, we are not any happier. In fact, we are more stressed because we have to pay off the credit card debt, live in unimportant clutter, and think about the next new item we want to buy but can't afford. So we work harder and longer so we can afford to pay for it. The vicious cycle does not make use happy; it only perpetuates the problem.  

In all fairness, we have been a little more careful with our spending lately due to the downturn in the economy, but when the economy improves, I'm sure we will be back in big box discount stores, spending our disposable income on useless things again. 

Illustration: James Provost


How do we solve this problem of planned obsolescence?
  • Don't be an American. Imagine you have to move to a quaint little 4th floor walk up apartment in Paris and it has no storage space for anything. What would you take with you to live there? Think about what is most valuable to you and what you can't live without. Ok. you can stop daydreaming about moving to Paris now but de-clutter and simplify your living space as if you are.  
  • Fix it. When something breaks, don’t immediately think you have to replace it with something new. Instead, see if you can repair it. I know people often think it's cheaper to buy new but that's not always the case. A zipper on my daughter's favorite winter boots recently broke. She was bummed because she really liked these winter boots and was sad to think she couldn't wear it anymore. Besides, she said, "What a waste it would be if I had to throw out the boots just because of one broken zipper."  Fortunately, a shoe repairman was able to replace the zipper for $9 and she was ecstatic! A brand new pair of boots would have cost much more than that. Not only was it cheaper, but we reduced our carbon print by not buying new and also supported our local shoe repair shop. I know this was just a pair of boots but this mentality of repairing things can be applied to everything we own.
  • Find it a home. If you can't find a way to repair a broken item or is too expensive to do so, don’t just toss the old one out. I bet you can find someone who would love to take it off your hands. If not, donate it to a charity or recycle it instead.
  • Buy Quality. Before you jump to buy the first cheapest thing you come across, like furniture, stop and think about its lifespan. How long would it last? Sure, cost is an important factor in buying big ticketed items. But quality is "cheaper" in the long run since you won't be throwing it out soon after the purchase. Think about antiques and how long they've lasted. Do you think furniture made with particle board will last that long? Buying vintage that have been around a long time will not disappoint as they are made with quality. If you must buy new clothes, buy classic timeless pieces and not cheap and trendy that will 'go out of style" in a year.    
  • Buy Green. If you have to buy, buy green. Although "buying green" can translate into over consumption too, the environment or your buying habit will not be as damaging as buying conventional. Buy organic as much as possible. Buy items that were made with recycled materials as much as possible. Buy sustainable products as much as possible.  
  • Buy Handmade. Buying handmade supports locally produced industry with products that are not mass produced. Handmade products are eco-friendly since making products by hand uses less energy than operating a factory. Also, most handmade artists use smaller spaces as their workspace that don't require a large amount of energy. If anything, they require less energy because they are using hands to produce and not machines. Added bonus is that handmade artists are compassionate people who care about their art and quality of their crafts. And in general, they also care about the environment and how much impact they are leaving on the planet. Supporting handmade means supporting local businesses that care about long lasting quality.
So when I talk about American consumerism, I am not suggesting that we stop buying. I am merely asking you to change your purchasing and consumption behavior. I'm really saying we need to minimize waste by buying quality or vintage, simplify our lifestyle, and don't become victim to consumerism.

Then, we can live a happier life without worrying about the next purchase and how we are going to pay for it.

Share your experience: How about you? Are you a victim of planned obsolescence? How do you combat it?

See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it 
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism
Step 13: Declutter Your Life  
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.



14 February 2012

Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Thinking about setting your finances in order and venturing on a debt-free life you need to reconsider your habits and your needs. After Vanessa powerfully revealed yesterday how she learned to live with less, today I have prepared a blitz interview with Anna Newell Jones, who got famous for going on what she called a "Spending Fast" for a year, followed by a "Spending Diet" and getting rid of her $23,605.10 debt in 15 months without the help of professionals. Anna has been writing about  living a debt-free life on her blog, where she has done a pretty amazing job at motivating other people to confront their spending habits and change their lifestyles.

How did you get in debt in the first place?
By not being conscious with my money, by living outside of my means, and by not wanting to honestly look at my financial situation. 

Did your debt bother you? Were you able to sleep comfortably at night? In what way did it affect your everyday decisions?
It really bothered me but I didn't think there was any way out so I got comfortable with it. Since I thought that I would die with my debt I adopted an "Ahh, screw it, might as well enjoy myself!" mentality.

When was the break-through moment? What made you decide to go on a spending fast?
It was after 3 consecutive years of rolling money from account to account to cover my over-spending. I was on a flight to visit my family for the holidays (after acquiring EVEN MORE debt from gift shopping) and it just hit me. Enough was finally enough.

What was the first step you took to cut expenses?
I made a "wants and needs" list and I decided to be committed to the process for a year. I only spent money on the "needs" side of the list.

You've cut on so many "wants" like eating out, buying clothes, makeup, driving your car. Are there moments when you regret starting this journey?
Yes it has not been a completely perfect and joyous experience at all times. Doing a Spending Fast and changing your life, habits and comfort zone is very hard work. There are a lot of fun things I missed out on: trips, movies, hanging out with friends at certain events, cute new clothes, and dinners out (among other things) but, I'm still happy I went through the process.

I'm debt-free now (I eliminated $23,605.10 in debt) and I wouldn't change that for the trips, clothes, meals or movies that I missed out on. It was completely worth it and I am beyond happy that I did it.

How much is enough? In what way did you change your buying habits?
I stopped all superfluous spending.

What new skills did you have to learn to adapt to your spending fast?
I had to get very crafty (which is really fun!) and I had to allow for a little more time to get things done since I couldn't do the "quick fix" solution of just going out and buying what I needed to remedy whatever problem I ran into.

Is this a family affair? How does your husband relate to your decision?
It was not a family decision. I didn't ask my husband if he was okay with it. We were 6 months into our marriage when I decided to do the Spending Fast and start my blog. Honestly it was hard on our marriage, but at the same time my husband is a natural saver so he was like, "Finally!"

The fast you initially planned to last 1 year has gone to a bit over 2 years now, how long are you going to go?
I did the Spending Fast for a year, and then the Spending Diet. I'm still doing a Spending Diet and I don't plan on stopping. It's a way of life now.

Do you feel truly happy now?
That's a tricky question. It's more that a weight has been lifted and my debts no longer angle my decisions like they used to. I have an autonomous life now which is more freeing than anything.

What advice can you give to anyone who is struggling with their debt?
Oh, I have a lot of advice if people want it! The main thing is this: you are not alone and you can get out of debt.


See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it 
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism
Step 13: Declutter Your Life 
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic 
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.



13 February 2012

Step 10: Learn to Live With Less And Enjoy it



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Now that The Simple Living Challenge enters into its second half, it is time for us to step in the realm of what has always given me shivers - shopping, wants and needs, debt, consumerism... in other words financial life.

The definition of how much exactly is enough seems to be part of an eternal argument and varies from culture to culture and from person to person. But one thing is sure, if we challenge ourselves to live with less we will always find a thing or two more to get rid of and we still will be happy. What, then, makes us hold onto possessions and define ourselves through our belongings?

The person who will help us find the answer to this question is Vanessa Williams. Her blog A simply good life is where she explores how lower standard of living doesn’t mean lower quality of life and it has been a place of inspiration and encouragement for me. With each post Vanessa looks into the luring and dangerous grounds of the consumerism trap and offers a solemn and wise account of her real life experiences on the quest to finding what truly matters in life.


My name is Vanessa... and I’m a shopaholic.

Growing up, like many teenagers, I spent significant time at the mall. This habit didn’t change much when I graduated from college, and broke out on my own.

Suddenly I had an entire apartment to fill with things. I went into debt acquiring stuff, telling myself “It’s ok, I NEED this!” or worse, “I DESERVE this.”

I dug myself a hole so big that eight years later I am still digging out. My story isn’t unique - many young Americans make the same mistakes that I did. Looking back, I honestly can’t tell you what was so important about having certain things. Other expenditures, like travel, I think were worth it.

The wake-up call
Although I became more money-savvy as I grew older, not a lot changed until I was served a rude wake-up call in 2009, when my husband, the primary breadwinner in our family, was laid off. This wound was deepened when six months later I lost my job as well, and we were to spend the next five months unemployed together. It was a long and hard fall for a high-middle-income family.

I was completely panicked. There were many tears shed in the HR office. I didn’t know what to do. I had come a long way from my frivolous days post-college, but I still had a lot to learn.

Since that time, we have both had several job transitions, putting us on a rather unsteady, tumultuous path. Currently, we are both laid off again from work. We’ve learned to take things day by day, month by month because planning ahead has proven ineffectual.

I share this story not for pity, but for the fact that in today’s day and age, it’s particularly common. Sudden income loss or layoff can happen to anyone, at any time. For most people, many of us will get laid off within our careers. We just have had the privilege in our household of having it occur multiple times.

Looking back, and even living it day to day now, I definitely would not have chosen this for my life. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have learned so much over the past two years.

Less is more
What panicked me most in those moments in the HR office was not only what we were going to do, but what I might have to give up. Meals of Ramen noodles at home flashed through my mind. What I know now is that “giving up” is actually gaining more.

Photo: Liz West


How much happiness can money buy?
When it boils down to it, what a lot of us want in life is freedom. Freedom to do what we want, when we want. Freedom to spend time with our friends and families. Freedom to do, see, explore. Freedom to pursue our lives’ passion. This is what ultimately makes us happy.

Many of us are under the impression that money can provide this freedom. I certainly was under that impression. And to an extent that’s true. Those basic needs must be met - food, clothing, shelter. Interestingly though, studies show that once those needs are met, money literally doesn’t buy happiness. In the United States, the magic income number seems to be $50,000. People who earn more than that are not significantly more happy.

So what gives? Well, I like to tell people that although I may not have a lot of money in the bank, I am wealthy in time. Being unemployed has let me focus on things I truly care about, and pursue my life’s passions. Wait, wasn’t that the promise monetary wealth was supposed to deliver? Well, yes it is.

The never-ending hamster wheel
We have let work dictate our lives in this country. Our consumerist culture has us always pursuing the next big thing. That house in the suburbs, the new car, the flat screen TV. These are things we tell ourselves we need to have. Once we get them, we may feel some sense of accomplishment or joy, but usually this feeling is short lived. Then we’re onto the next thing. And to feed this desire for more we need to earn more, which generally means work more, until we are on this never-ending hamster wheel.

Many of us, like me, go into debt to accomplish these goals, obligating us to a certain income even more. Eighty percent of us are unhappy at our jobs - why? Because we have created a lifestyle that is so cash-strapped we have not allowed ourselves any wiggle room to take a risk and pursue what we really love.



Slow down
Our lay-offs put an abrupt end to this cycle. When we were working, we were stressed, and it put a strain on our relationship. The layoff forced a life slow-down. We focused on each other - “We’re in this together.” - and our marriage deepened and strengthened.

We have used our time wisely, taking friends up on their offers to have us visit. We’ve attended free community fitness classes so our health didn’t suffer. We’ve taken up new hobbies, and are learning new skills. Our household “to do” list is getting tackled.

We make delicious home-cooked meals with fresh foods from the farmers’ market because we have the time. We don’t have to quickly microwave something when we come home from a long day’s work anymore.

I have the ability to drop everything and help a friend in need, and have done so on occasion. I also can pursue my love of writing, and have launched my blog - something I’d always wanted to do, but could never find the time for it.

I’ve found a community of like-minded people who are there to support me and learn with me. All of these things have lead to a happier, more-fulfilling life.


Opt out of consumerism
Looking around our home, one would not pin me as someone who can talk about living with less. Most of our closets are chock-full. I am certainly not a good example of zen habits - I still enjoy my things. However, I have opted out consumer culture in a number of ways.

I’ve learned to let go of labels. Do I follow fashion trends? Yes, but now I am more focused on being a trend-setter. I have a style that is uniquely my own. Half my wardrobe is pre-loved, and I get equal compliments on new and used things.

More than half of the furniture in our home is used. You know why? Older things are built better; they are built to last. New items are designed with planned obsolescence. Older things were meant to be passed down. Better still, I have fond memories attached to some of the useful items - like my grandmother’s kitchen table. Every day she gets to be part of my routine in a small way when I have my coffee in the morning, or dinner at night. This is something special that I wouldn’t trade for even the newest fabulous model at Ethan Allen.

When we need something we don’t have these days - we ask friends first if we can borrow it. This works well when we need a second vehicle for example. Borrowing or renting something often makes more sense than owning it. If that doesn’t work, we opt next for Freecycle, a community where people post things they are giving away. Conversely people can ask for things they need. We received a food dehydrator absolutely free this way.

But perhaps what I am most proud of is that instead of a few times a month, you can find me at the mall only a few times a year. This is not something I have done consciously, but has occurred through finding other ways of doing things. Finding cheaper or alternative means to meet our needs has proven better for our family.

Photo: another.point.in.time


Embrace change
I know this knowledge and experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. The past two years have had a profound impact on my thinking. It’s as if I have been re-calibrated. New habits will stick with us regardless of how much we are earning, and I know that regardless of what the future holds for us, I will always put myself and my family first.

In the end, living with less allows you to focus on what matters, and ultimately to live a happier life.

Share your experience: How much money do you personally need to feel happy? To what extent do money define your happiness?

See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism
Step 13: Declutter Your Life
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self 
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.



11 February 2012

Weekend DIY: Simple Handmade Buttons



I remember the moments when my Mom opened her sewing machine when I was a kid and all sorts of fancy items were to be seen. Most of all, I remember the button box. I am pretty sure that children can grow up playing with just buttons - colorful, different in sizes and shapes, different to the touch. We did have an array of games including buttons, if only I could remember them!

Photo: Rena Tom

As a tribute to my mother, I would like to share with you some DIY projects including buttons.

DIY found on Rit via The Craftinomicon
In case you have a stack of white plastic buttons which you have no idea how to put to use, here is an inspiration - dye them in the colors and shades you want! Use Rit dies and hot water to achieve the desired colors. Don't forget that giving second life to your plastic buttons you are helping the planet!








DIY by The Haby Goddes
If dyeing is not for you, why not trying to make your own buttons out of beach pebbles. They are usually soft and very prone to processing. Go to your nearest pebble beach and choose reasonably flat stones with similar appearance. Try not to go overboard with size because the bigger they are, the heavier they get and will turn practically unusable on a garment. I personally am impatient to try this out. There was a time when I turned everything I saw to a pendant, including some stones, so it wouldn't be hard for me to try again, right?








Photo courtesy of Mystic Orb
I have a long-standing dream of crafting my own wooden buttons, especially after getting to know Taryn and Jeff. Look at that beauty! I would love to change all my family's buttons to those lush, thick and earthy ones by Mystic Orb. Here is a DIY by Just Crafty Enough that might help me get closer to the dream, and hopefully will instill in you the same! It will take you step by step from choosing your branch to coating the buttons.





So tell me, what are you crafting today?





10 February 2012

Step 9: How to De-Stress



A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

Stress is a term that is very often used nowadays but it gets increasingly difficult to define. Poor organization, traffic, lack of exercise, suppressed emotions can all stress you out. No matter how much you have simplified your life already, stress does build up.

Today, I am happy to host the master of eco-living, Debra Duneier, who I introduced to you back in November, with her book Eco-Chi - Designing the Human Experience. That book showed me so many ways to organize and design my home so as to attract harmony and happiness, and still be eco-friendly, that I keep on recommending it to my friedns. Since Debra is not only a talented writer, but also an accredited LEED® Green Associate, Certified Eco-Designer and a Feng Shui Master Practitioner I thought there is no one else who can teach us better about how to de-stress than her.


When we connect with nature we feel happier and regain our natural rhythm. All of our senses become alive and we are reminded of our innate ability to heal ourselves. I created the EcoChi® system-because I was searching for ways to heal in my own life. I am excited to share this new concept with you blending both the ancient and the modern disciplines of Classical Feng Shui, Green and Sustainable Living and Environmental Psychology.




Water
Water soothes… so we love to be near water. After all, our own bodies are 70% water! People gather around fountains all over the world. The sound comforts us, the splashing delights us. We are reminded that we are a small part of something grand. Place a water fountain or fish bowl in your home. Be sure to keep the water clean at all times and enjoy!

Trees and plants
Indoor trees and plants are not only pleasurable to look at but also bring additional health benefits. Plants purify the air through the tiny pores in their leaves that act as air filters.

Organic produce
There is nothing like the taste of home grown vegetables and fruits. What do you do if you have no garden? You can grow herbs and even some vegetables potted in organic soil near your window. They smell and taste great while they nourish and heal you.



Nature
When your lives seem out of control, head outdoors! Plant your feet on the ground, raise your arms and take deep breaths. Consciously breathe in and out. You may even want to find a big old wise tree. Sit under it, put your hand on the trunk, smooth its leaves, feel its sturdiness and wisdom. This will help you to get back to your natural rhythm.

Massage
For maximum health we all need to touch and be touched. Choose massage oil in a relaxing fragrance like lavender, sandalwood or vanilla. Warm it over a candle and massage your feet, legs and hands for a feeling of luxury and calm.

Share your experience: Tell us which is your favorite method of dealing with stress.

See also: 
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism 
Step 13: Declutter Your Life  
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.



09 February 2012

Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self




A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

The past few steps of our Simple Living Challenge have been steadily leading us to today's post and I am thankful that Shelly of LIghtboxSF is sharing her views today. From learning to accept our imperfections, to spending time with our family, to finding time for ourselves through scheduling and organizing, our aim, be it unintentional at times, is to find inner piece. Without inner piece there is no amount of money, friends or attention that can help us be self-sufficient and enjoy simplicity.

Shelly Kerry is co-owner of Lightbox SF. She is an artist, designer, and motivator. Since 2006 she has been working to build her own jewelry design business, em’s studio, and she wants to share all she’s learned. Shelly knows that building your own art or craft business can often feel lonely and overwhelming. She also understands how much of a struggle it is to balance a “day job” with a budding creative business.

Shelly’s talent for listening and her own personal experimentation with organization and structure are your boon. She has a wealth of advice to help keep you motivated, push through those stuck times, and make the most out of your already busy schedule. Through Lightbox SF and her Creating Space program, she provides the much needed support, encouragement, and skills that will allow you to realize your dreams. Connect to Shelly via twitter or facebook.


Am I really growing into the person I want to spend the rest of my life being?
Developing a relationship with our inner being is a lifetime journey of self-discovery, questions and adventures.  We get to know ourselves by setting back and really listening to our hearts and bodies, taking risks and allowing ourselves the space to do so. How can we hear what our inner self is trying so desperately to say if all we do is run from job to job to social engagement to networking event and don’t take the time to evaluate what is actually important? Am I happy being so busy? Am I really growing into the person I want to spend the rest of my life being?

There is no time line or stop watch telling us when we should start this journey of self discovery. There is no wrong time.  There is only the right time – any age, any situation. Truly knowing you is the first step to a more conscious, simple lifestyle.

Photo: LightboxSF


My journey of self discovery
My journey of self discovery began pretty early in life.  I felt strongly at an early age that my family’s chosen religion, Catholicism, was not for me. In my twenties, I wanted to be friends with the most eccentric people I could find, so radically different from me but full of adventure and with their own unique sense of knowledge.  I also felt strongly about leaving the comforts of the Midwest and the close proximity of my supportive family in order to travel the states, re-locate to big cities and venture to other countries solo.  

My life has been fun and full of adventure but definitely not void of sorrow and heartache.  I desperately wanted to know what made me tick, what made me happy, what made me uncomfortable and the only way I saw fit was through risks, fear and pushing my own boundaries. When I look back I was non-stop. Yes, I was getting to know myself but was I yet at a place of really understanding what my body and heart were whispering?

Wanting to slow down just a little I picked up my first copy of Women’s Body, Women’s Wisdom over twelve years ago and enrolled in my first yoga class.  I began my own informal education on how the body, mind and heart interact. I started to take time to really listen to myself, allowing past experiences to just rest inside of me without judgment. 

I moved to San Francisco over 6 years ago from NYC to live in a place that I felt could better support my new journey. Maturity and a better relationship with my inner being helps me to see what works in my life, teaches me to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to look into the future just long enough to make better decisions today. My goal now is to always stay true to what I believe is right for me and my life feels full of the most beautiful friends and interesting opportunities. I continue to take many risks but also have a better idea of what really works for me. The beauty of this journey is that it is on-going with a simple goal of finding peace and living a life of simple pleasures.

Photo: LightboxSF
Awareness
I believe we cannot truly hear what our heart is saying unless we give it the time and space. Our lives are busy and sometimes it is hard to find time to just “be.” In this economy we find ourselves working two jobs, struggling with what we want to do and what we have to do to make ends meet. Unless you make a conscious stand, information from media can be over-whelming and exhausting. Flashing billboard ads scream “You have to have this!” and can tire the mind quickly.

But if we are so busy, where do we find the time to go for a hike in the woods or a quiet lunch with an old friend in the park? You schedule it. This time should have just as much priority as anything else in our schedule. Once a week at least, you should arrange time to just sit with yourself and check in. This can be in the form of a ten minute meditation followed by a 20 min walk.  If you enjoy running, find a nice local spot where you can easily exercise and give your mind space. Develop a morning habit of stream of consciousness writing. Pick up a journal and write non-stop for 5 to ten minutes and then non-judgmentally stop and let the memory of what you wrote marinate for the rest of the day.

There is a wonderful exercise that I try to use regularly. It is a full body check in. If something happens and I start to feel anger or anxiety or an uncomfortable feeling that I don’t yet recognize, I try to stop what I am doing for a minute and sit if possible. I close my eyes and starting with the top of my head down to my feet, I ask myself how this emotion is affecting each part of my body. Is my neck tight? Am I clenching my teeth? Is my belly becoming hot with anger? Through this exercise I am giving myself the time it needs to truly connect my body with my mind and heart. Without judgment, I am giving myself the respect I deserve. Magically, in the silence something wonderful can happen and I feel more confident and clear.

Photo: LightboxSF
Reflection
So now you have been going on your daily walks, spending time thinking about what is working or not working in your life and you are starting to feel overwhelmed. Deeply reflecting does not always feel so good at the time. You can become anxious or scared. So what do you do? How would you feel if I said you do nothing? Well nothing right away. I used to be a let’s fix things quickly and immediately and believe me it wasn’t always a good solution.

Again, let yourself feel these new emotions. If taking this time for yourself is new to you, what arises can feel quiet strange or uncomfortable. Just go with it. 

Remind yourself that the relationship that you are developing with yourself will result in you becoming the most confident and beautiful version of you. If you are feeling guilty for spending this time with yourself and not your family, realize that you are doing them a favor. Taking 30 minutes a day for you is nothing if it results in a lifetime of a happy and connected person.

(If you or a loved one is in danger or you find yourself in some seriously bad situation this advice is not for you. You should seek a professional and remove yourself from the situation immediately.)

Making Changes
The beauty of a good steady practice of listening to your inner being is that it naturally results in a more conscious sense of living. You become clearer about who and what should be in your life. The relationship that develops between your heart, body and mind answers difficult questions for you. Respecting yourself and your feelings brings a beautiful sense of confidence that is inspiring and viral.

Trust that you will begin to see your life filled with amazing supportive people, laughter and peace. And at the cost of what – taking a nice weekly hike, listening to yourself and sitting with your thoughts? Doesn’t sound too shabby to me!

You can do this!
Consider today's challenge as an extension of yesterday's. Look for ways to free up time, so that you can pay attention to your feelings and your inner voice. 30 minutes is what you need.  Even if you are used to being on your own, try to make a change to the routine and enhance it.

Share your experience: Tell us how it feels to pay more attention to yourself for a second day in a row. Once again, if you are used to spending time alone, did you change something in your routine today to provoke different, positive feelings?
See also:

Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism  
Step 13: Declutter Your Life  
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader.