Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Minimalist Transportation Options

Transportation is one of the most difficult issues for many minimalists to reconcile themselves with. Every type transportation has its pros and cons, but I have found it hard to find a site, or even an article, that had a comprehensive list of transportation options and how they apply to different styles of minimalism. Overall, minimalism requires much in the way of preplanning, and transportation is no different. If you plan to change your methods of transportation, you have to plan for these changes. For instance, plan on having time on the train to get a blog finished - bring your laptop and enjoy your extra time! Anyway, here is part one of a list I hope you will all find helpful when making your decisions about minimalist transportation.

Mass Transit - It's cheap, helps lower your carbon emissions, and you don't have to drive. I am fortunate enough to live in the Portland-Metro area, which has an amazing public transportation model that is being implemented elsewhere around the world. Seriously, you can get almost anywhere because that's how the trains and bus routes were laid out. 
                  However, not everyone has access to such great mass transit. But, before you discount this option, could you? What if you moved within biking distance of the train? Think creatively, and you'll be amazed at what you can do with limited funds and some passion.

Biking - I hear all sorts of arguments against the bike commuter lifestyle, but I have to put most of them to rest. First of all, biking is not as dangerous as you think it is, and I don't care where you live. This is especially true if you actually know all the bike laws, maintain visibility, and are considerate of the other modes of transportation. Share the road doesn't just mean cars need to yield to bikes and pedestrians; it means we all need to share the road and be considerate of the people around us so everyone has a safe trip to wherever they are headed. 
Another argument I hear regularly is, "I have kids. How could I possibly be a bike commuter?" Honestly, it's not even an argument. It's an excuse. Having children is no excuse not be a bike commuter. I have a trailer for my daughter, and she goes everywhere with me. I bought it earlier this year, and it has been fantastic. She thinks "going bye-bye" in the trailer is tons of fun, because she gets to have the wind in her face, see all the sights, and play and eat snacks. How is a kid not going to enjoy that? 
I don't want to hear about bad weather, either. Once again, I live in Portland. The amount of rain we receive is somewhat obscene, so you learn to live with it. I recommend either full bike gear, which dries quickly, or Nike Dri-fit clothing. The stuff seriously takes 5 minutes to dry out. The only weather you shouldn't be able to handle on a bike is heavy snow, and should you really be out and about in loads of snow anyway? For those of you who live in perennial winter weather, I'll be honest, I haven't been there so I don't even know what its like. Use your judgement, be safe, and do whatever is safest and most efficient. 
 If you are at all interested in bike commuting, you have to read Tammy Strobel's Simply Car-free: How to Pedal Toward Financial Freedom and a Healthier Life. Author of the RowdyKittens blog and my fellow Portlander, Tammy totally gets it when it comes to living car-free.

Until next time, happy commuting!

The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit   Bicycle Times    The Bicycle Book: Wit, Wisdom & Wanderings

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why I Write This Blog

How on earth did I ever end up with a blog about minimalist living? That thought had occurred to me a few days ago, and I felt it deserved to be fully answered, if I was to claim to be any sort of authority on the minimalist lifestyle. 
It started a year ago, wandering a Barnes and Noble for inspiration, when I discovered Maya Frost's The New Global Student. It is both a story of her family's escape from suburbia and a how-to guide for becoming a globally educated student in our rather rigid education system that doesn't like things out of the norm. Though I was already in college and most of the book didn't apply to me, I found her story incredibly inspiring. She is even from a little tiny town right next to the one I grew in, and it was a sign for me. There is nothing I'd love more than to travel as my passions shift, and hopefully, I'll begin my own journey this year. At any rate, this book was the starting point. I knew there was a way to embrace my dream of traveling the world without having to wait until I retired, but I hadn't found the answer yet.
Life has been busy happening the past year while I blast through college at a rapid rate, but the thoughts of living simply and self-improvement have only multiplied. In January, I began my 101 in 1001 list, which has led me to complete 15 goals already, and I have 35 more in progress. I finally bought a car in January, only to turn around and sell it 3 weeks later and commit my traveling life to being a bike commuter. I have explored time management systems, wondering if answers laid therein, and then I discovered Zen to Done, which has rocked my world. 
Everything I read and everything happening in my life has snowballed into this sense of self-discovery I've never known before. Having a kid at 20 doesn't give you much time to learn who you really are, but I think I'm starting to find out. This soul searching has led me to realize the reason I could never determine what my values were was because I simply didn't have traditional values. I figured out my commitments and tore them down to just the ones that make me happy. 
Writing makes me happy. It relaxes me, and I get to make a contribution to the world in my own little way. I've only had this up a week, and I already am gaining a following of readers - which, by the way, you guys are awesome for being so supportive. Allowing myself to reflect on the decisions I make daily and the way I choose to live makes me constantly aware of the struggles and triumphs of living the minimalist lifestyle. I'm always looking for my next blog idea all over the place, and many of those places make me step back and think. More than anything, since I started this blog, I find myself asking why people look so unhappy, and I think I know parts of the answer. Simplifying lifestyles and ending consumerism are passions of mine, and this is how I spread awareness that are alternatives.
So, I suppose that is why I write here. I spread awareness, make myself happy, and I try to help others discover their own happiness. If I'm an authority, it's through personal experience, being well-read, and offering alternatives. 
What is an alternative decision you have made before? How did people view it? Do have any regrets about it?

Zen Habits: Handbook For Life    The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.    The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education

Friday, August 27, 2010

Minimalism and Kids: 5 Rules to Make it Happen

This is Evie! My daughter. :)

        When I told my mom I was pregnant, she started planning immediately for all of the things we had to get for the coming bundle of joy. The baby needed so many things, after all! Oh, and I had to get my license so I could get a car; no one could have a baby without a car! Then, I told her I wasn't planning on getting a car. I would do the same thing I always had and take mass transit and ride my bike, because it was the responsible decision. She still thinks I'm insane.

       The most difficult part of staying true to minimalist ideas for me with my daughter isn't even my daughter, who is 21 months. It is everyone who cares about her and thinks showing love means giving gifts. Coming from a family where giving something usually constitutes some sort of personal sacrifice, it can be awful trying to tell these well-meaning family members my daughter has enough things already. 

       Cruising around other minimalist blogs, I have noticed a common misconception. Many people claim it is impossible to have children and be a minimalist. I have to disagree. Keeping a minimalist home with children is entirely possible, albeit there is more thought involved. Preplanning is a required skill for a minimalist lifestyle, and I've noticed it comes in pretty handy once you have children, too.

       How do you combat these potential problems? Plan for worst case scenarios and be ready to say no. If you aren't firm with those around you, they aren't going to respect your decision to step outside the norm, and later in life, neither will your kids.

1. Tell people you are a minimalist. This can be a somewhat abrupt information session, where you let them know after you begin the 100 Thing Challenge and give up your car, but it is going to easier on people afraid of change - most of us - if it seems more gradual. Making the decision to become a minimalist is a huge personal experience, so allow them to see what you are doing. Tell them about the changes you are making in your life, about how you are making plans to follow your dreams, and how happy this makes you.

2. Set down ground rules for friends and family. When you explain to others that you don't want to receive gifts, for you or your children, they probably won't understand. If it is really a problem, ask those troublesome family members if they'd like to plan an outing for the kids instead. (Coming next week, a list of ideas for outings! Until then, check out Frugal fun for kids!)

3. Prioritize experiences. If the choice is a toy at $X, or fall soccer for $400, show them where you stand by paying for a great experience for them, even if it costs a little more. Over time, the experience will be worth more, if you account for the joy of discovering a new passion and gaining an appreciation for physical activity. Speaking of passion and outings, how about the ultimate in experiences?

4. Travel with your kids. No, I don't mean take them with you on your vacation to Cancun; take them to a developing country. Let them see first hand what other people go through on a daily basis to survive. Get them involved in volunteer activities while you are there, and watch your child's world grow. There is no child anywhere who wouldn't be absolutely changed by this sort of experience, so get to it! Trips to places like Buenos Aires and Bangkok can yield huge cultural experiences for a great price, and there are lots of opportunities for volunteer work.

5. Say no. This is the hardest one of all, because you're going to make some people unhappy. When telling people no, remember how much happier you are going to be afterwards, when you don't feel torn about what to do with an expensive gift. 

This is a huge topic worth lots of discussion and exploration, so plan on seeing more on minimalism with kids in the future!

Money-Savvy Kids: Parenting Penny-Wise Kids in a Money-Hungry World              Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up           Wanderlust and Lipstick: Traveling with Kids

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tiny Homes Allow More Space for Adventure

        I recently read an article discussing the falling popularity of McMansions, and all I have to say is... I called that one. 

        December 2007, I was sitting on the front porch of the ex-in-laws house, having a cigar with my father in-law. I looked out across the stretch of suburban sprawl, and sighed. When he asked why, I told him I didn't know how he did it. Living in this area where every house is the same, every family trying to be the Joneses, and all of them suffering for it; that kind of lifestyle would kill me. He said thanks sarcastically, laughing it off at the time. I wasn't joking, though. The thought of living in one of those hulking excesses, those giant statues to the infallible American economy, made me sick.

       These days, I like to think of myself as being ahead of the times. I always loved the idea of living in a small house with little nooks everywhere, and it is coming back into fashion. Older houses have so much character. Even if you insist on a new home, there are options available now for tiny homes. The Small House Book, by Jay Shafer, is filled with designs of these beautiful, tiny houses that have lots of space for living creatively. Houses with square footage that make my mother gasp and ask how anyone could possibly live like that (I like to cite whole families livings in one room all over the world at this, but to no avail.), contrary to pre-Recession thinking, the new vogue. 

       Why is this happening? Well, if you're here, you probably have felt the change in the winds, too. This collective unrest of the population without meaningful jobs or a purpose in life... Ah, well, before I get too philosophical, let's look at the facts.

       Americans have less money right now. What has this resulted in? According to the New York Times, it has changed our time-use habits to put a focus on experiences.  We seem to be realizing that the newest clothing trend may not bring us as much happiness as spending time with people we care about. It just so happens that a giant house isn't necessary to see people we love. When everybody has less, there is less perceived pressure to have the biggest house with the biggest television. 

       Eco is in. Green is the new gold for this century, between the concern over global warming to worries over species extinction to how our carbon footprints will affect our grandchildren. Environmental concern is as stylish as owning a Prius, and it is part of what is forwarding the idea of a minimalist lifestyle. By living with less in a smaller space, we demonstrate not just our feel-good commitment to saving the environment, but also our actual, physical manifestations of what we are doing to make a difference. It is trendy, and somehow, I am very okay with that. If saving the planet is a trend, let's hope it never goes out of style.

       Tiny homes and minimalism really go hand in hand. If you have less, you need less space to put it. Then, you can focus less on making money to buy all of the stuff and get off the work-spend treadmill. Open your time up and go on an adventure. Continue your lifelong learning journey. Get in touch with your creative side. You can do it; all you have to do is remove the clutter and allow it to come to you.

       Experiences matter. Saving the planet matters. Your challenge today is to come up with an idea that combines both of those ideas and make it happen. Take a hike and revel in nature with your friends, or find an organization you can plant trees with and make some new friends! Friends of Trees is a great one. Go forth, and have an adventure!

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life       The Art of Being Minimalist: How to Stop Consuming and Start Living              The Happy Minimalist: Financial independence, Good health, and a better planet for us all                   

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Developing a Sustainable Shopping Ethic

          A few weeks ago I began the 100 thing challenge after reading some great articles on others who had done the same. My living situation has been in limbo for several weeks now, so I thought there was no better time than now, when I had to move everything and go through it all anyway, to begin a more conscious effort to reduce my consumption. I honestly didn't realize how few things I had, or that the bulk of my personal items existed in clothing. 
         As I began going through my things, I started cataloging everything, noting what needed replaced due to wear. Next was the clothing box. Because of my move, it was literally just a giant overflowing tote of fashion, ready to be passed on to others who needed it more than me. 
         Normally, clothing is something I have a bit of a hard time parting with. I model on the side, and you never know when you will need a certain item for a shoot. In the myriad of small projects to better myself I am participating in, one is the 101 in 1001. This really cool idea is explained here at the 1010 in 1001 site. Coincidentally, one of my goals was to "be a little trendy." The goals need to be specific, and the rules for this one were to first make a list of desired clothing items based on a couple hours of research. The next step was to try and find all of those pieces. I searched trends, classic looks I loved, and basic guides from About.com on how to shop for clothing. Another favorite of mine is DIY fashion. This is a great guide to get you started, DIY Fashion: Customize and Personlize. My own personal guide was a bit different, because one of my other goals is to strictly buy clothing secondhand only for 120 days (a goal that has been extended from 60 days), however the principles listed were good. 
        How many of us really know how to shop for clothing? Especially for a minimalist, where every clothing item needs to serve several purposes and looks, it is vital we understand our wardrobe needs and how to fulfill them, while staying committed to our principles. For anyone who doesn't know where to begin with their requirements for what I like to call a sustainable fashion ethic - an ethic that seems small, but it's important to me - here is my personal list of rules for buying.

My new rules for buying (in order):
Look for desired item for free on craigslist.
Try to barter for item on craigslist.
Buy item secondhand, from a local thrift store.
Buy item secondhand, from a mainstream thrift store.
If item cannot be found secondhand, consider if I really need it. If I do, buy from a local vendor.

           The best part of this simple, little list is that you can apply to anything you want. Really. Anything. Ever heard of the guy who traded a red paper clip for a house? And, you don't have to use Craigslist. I live in Portland, however, and Craigslist is king for finding free stuff. Since I have no furniture, I plan on getting everything I need at my new place for free, or potentially barter, off of this glorious site for the frugal. 

          What else do you think would contribute to a sustainable shopping ethic? What are your personal rules for buying? 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Unintentional Minimalist

I never had any intention of becoming a minimalist. 

            I liked my things, all my toys and Barbies and clothes. I had many of the things little girls dream of having. My mother had always been obsessed with getting all of the stuff, because she never had as much of it as she wanted having three kids on a bartender's salary. She loved Walmart, so I loved Walmart. Things were cheap, and we could have McDonald's for lunch. Oh, and we loved McDonald's. We had it at least a couple of times a week. How could a family not drown itself in cheeseburgers when they were $0.39 a piece? She was always convinced that if she had enough stuff, she would be happy.
         I moved out of my mom's place when I was sixteen, for a long list of reasons, and I could only take what I could carry. This amounted to a suitcase of clothing, a few pictures, and my notebooks - journals where I had documented my life in pictures, writing, and lists since I was about seven. As I grabbed my most important possessions, I resented having to leave so much behind from my childhood. Everything was ripped from me, and at first, I was so angry about losing everything. However, my immediate concern became where I was going to live for the last two years of high school.
         My grandma lived down the street from my mom's house, so I ended up moving in with her. She had always been heavily involved in my life, and she had a bedroom that she was happy to give up for me to have my own space. It wasn't as if she had a lot of things to move; my grandma could put all of her things in a few boxes. She had three outfits, a bible, a few self-help books, and her mountain of photo albums. She was a scrapbooker, but not like those sappy old ladies who buy the prefabs and just assemble them. She was an artist. When we were little, my grandma would draw pictures of our favorites cartoons for us to color in. She now let her artistic drive rule over her most beloved possessions; pictures of her family.
         I was confined to the house with no connection to the outside world, except for church which my mother thought would straighten me out. But, before long, I got my first job. My little empty room grew to have a table and this antique chair I found on a thrift store trip with my best friend. I slowly gained my freedom, beginning to fill my space with things I thought I needed.
         The next time I gave away all of things was three years later. My now ex-husband had joined the army, and his extended training was in San Antonio. I didn't have much to wait around for at home, so I uprooted and left, in my first bout of unintended self-discovery. Everything that didn't fit into two suitcases was left, ransacked by family members and the rest by a church for a fundraiser. I felt no regret at the loss, though my mother-in-law seemed utterly confused by my odd way of doing things. When I arrived in San Antonio, I was positively liberated. I felt like I was aflame, and it would only take a little more effort to fly.
         Well, fast forward to today, and some things have changed. My mother hasn't; she still loves her things, and she will never have enough. My grandma still only has the things that matter to her. Then, there is me. After losing all of my things twice, I realized something. When I didn't have a bunch of stuff, I was happier than I had ever been. I loved being mobile, not having anything to hold me down or back. 
         This is why I am entering the blogosphere; I want to spread this self-awareness through giving up material possessions to anyone who is willing to listen and give it a try. It has taken me longer than I like to admit, but I finally discovered what my values are. I will work to maintain those values through my own personal form of minimalist and my writing on the experiences of someone who is not in what many would consider to be the ideal place in life to become a dedicated minimalist, though I think there is no bad time to begin downsizing possessions to improve your quality of life. My goal is to demonstrate that now is the time to start your own minimalist adventure, no matter where you are in life. 

       The challenge is I issue you today is for you to decide if all of the things in your life are contributing to your personal happiness. If something no longer serves you, it doesn't belong in your life. If you can release just one thing today, do it! 

       If you would like some more reading material until I get more up, check out The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta.