Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Minimalism (Page 1 of 2)

A Beginner Minimalist

creat more consume less

On Holidays

I adore Christmas. Growing up in China and now living in the U.S., Christmas is the holiday that resembles Chinese New Year the closest – week-long break from school, cold air and warm blanket, comfort food, and hot tea. Christmas traditions spark joy and holiday spirits in me just like Chinese New Year does, even through they are celebrated very differently.

Christmas has carols, lights and a tree, whereas Chinese New year is celebrated with red lanterns, hand-cut window grilles, couplets flanking the front door, and lots and lots of fireworks. The biggest difference between how American and Chinese celebrate their holidays, is the gift giving. Chinese holidays involve no gift. There was not even birthday gifts (yes, you heard it right). Holidays in China are celebrated by the whole family gathering around and having a nice meal together. So understandably, even after 12 years living in the States, I still have a hard time choosing and receiving gifts, both of which give me lots of anxiety.

But nevertheless, the holiday shopping season comes in stronger and stronger force every year. As soon as we took the last bite of the Thanksgiving turkey, this world is all about shopping for Christmas. All the sudden, headlines like “10 gift every husband wants”, “must-haves in 2018 for empty-nesters”, even “the complete gift guide for all the people on your list” are all over the internet. Do I really need to buy gifts for all my girlfriends? What about co-workers? Does Slav really need a cigar box with his name carved on it? And I am supposed to gift myself now? OMG. I feel anxious just to type these words!

On Consumerism

The gift shopping and receiving is especially hard for me because I practice minimalism. I am not a minimalist by the strict sense – I do not have a sterile apartment or a capsule wardrobe. But I do follow two self-imposed rules when it comes to possessions:

1. Only keep things we actively use or strongly appreciated; and

2. Never buy a thing we do not need/use, just because “everyone else has it” or because other people/ads tell me that I “should have it”. 

These rules are simple, but they take some will-power to follow through. When my parents visited me from China, they were shocked that I, a Chinese woman who eats rice almost everyday, did not own a rice cooker. Their disbelief was so strong that it made me question myself for a brief moment. I was almost convinced that I should go out and buy one. But I soon remembered, we had not had a rick cooker for 7 years! We cook rice perfectly using a regular soup pot. The expectations of following social norms was so strong, that convincing my parents not to buy a rice cooker for me was unpleasant, grinding, and totally made me look like an unreasonable and stubborn bitch. (And when my mother-in-law visited, despite my protest, she just bought one and put it on my counter. Oops.)

We now live in a world that we are expected to own certain things, such as a standard mixer in the kitchen, a big TV in the living room, and a guest bedroom that remains unused 350 days a year. We own them not because we actually need them, but rather “we should have them”. Slav and I have decided that we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t pay for things we don’t use. We shouldn’t live our lives for anyone’s expectations. Therefore, we do not have a TV or a sofa. What we do have, is over 1500 physical books and a big vinyl collection. Because those are what we use and what we love.

On Managing Possessions

A couple years ago I decided to dress with less. Even though I was not aiming to make a 50-piece wardrobe, I did get rid of a lot of pieces. A lot of pieces I held onto just because I had the space. It was surprisingly easy once I set my mind on it. A trick I used for pieces I payed a lot for, or pieces I hoped to wear (but never would), was to put these items into a big bag and tossed it in the trunk of my car. After driving around with them for weeks, I did not miss them at all. So I donated them the next time I passed the PTA. It is a good trick to get rid of things we think we would need without the fear of regret. When I have a hard time to let it go, I always ask myself, “Will another person need, want, or appreciate it more than me?” 

After moving into this house, we do face the need of furnishing the space. Slav and I decided to do it slowly – so instead of going out to buy a bedroom set, a sofa and an entertainment center, a dining set, we bought a storage bed, a dining table, and two chairs – the minimal requirement for living comfortably. We want to learn what we actually need, and what will look good in the house. Six months later, we did not feel that we need anything more, and I love how our 850 sqft ranch feels spacious and cozy at the same time.

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The surprising side effect of my minimalism practice, is how much I started to appreciate the few things we own. I have only one decorative item on my desk, which is this mouse sculpture. We saw it in the thrift shop for $20, which was not cheap. But I adore it. I work with mice everyday and have scarified hundreds, if not thousands of them for research. I would like to have something to remind me their contribution to science and medicine. Looking at it brings me a sense of responsibility and gratitude towards my work.

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Similarly, this Buddha sculpture is the only decoration in my bedroom. It is a cheap find for $2 in the grocery store discount bin, but it reminds me the Chinese teachings I grew up with. I see it every morning when I get off the bed, when this Buddha head is bathed in the morning rays. It makes me feel calm, acceptance, and grace. It also reminds me the suffering the humanity faces, and brings a sense of responsibility of making the world better, which fuels my day.

On Free Time

The most unexpected gift my minimalism gives me, is free time. With smaller house to clean, few dishes to put away, few appliance to maintain, Slav and I have very little chores to do. We are able to focus on things that are important to us: health, hobbies, our dogs, and lots of time for each other. Each day, we spend hours in the evenings to relax and just talk. Through these talks, we learn about each other’s past, passion, and preferences. It helps us every step along the way to realign our priorities as a couple. In fact, that is how we decided to move to Colorado together!

A rule in Chinese ink painting is called “liu bai”, meaning “leave some space unoccupied”, based on the believe that imagination and creativity rises from unoccupied space/time/mind. I find it is very true. By leaving our house most unoccupied, we come up with creative ideas for the space. By leaving our time unoccupied, we discover what we do and do not care about so we can set our priorities. For me, practicing minimalism is all about to reassessing priorities. I apply it to material things, but also to how I spend my time and energy. What do I want to accomplish the most today, this week, and this year? Where should I spend my money/time/attention that is the most valuable to my family, my community, and the society? I set my intentions in the mornings, then just focus on giving it 100%. By the end of the day, successful or not, there is no guilt, no worry, and I am not overwhelmed. Living with intentions helps me to let trivial things go, and focus on making progress on things truly matter to me. 

Being a minimalist may be hard, but practice minimalism is simple. Do you agree? What is your own way of practicing minimalism?

Setting Up A Minimalist Bedroom

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Happy July 4th, everyone! I hope you have a great weekend grill out with family. We do not have a grill yet – the old grill left behind by the previous owner was too gross to keep (thanks though!). We did order a new grill, a sexy beast to say the least. Cannot wait for it to be delivered.

After removing the old carpet and expose the hardwood flooring, we aimed to set up our bedroom and Slav’s office as soon as possible. A good night sleep is necessary for carrying out all the physical work we are doing, and some downtime at night on his computer is well-deserved for Slav.

I always wanted cozy bedrooms. However, the two bedrooms we lived in the longest in the past were either big, or directly open to the rest of the house (no door). Our new bedroom is 10’6″ by 11″. It can take a king bed comfortably, yet with ample room for bedside tables. Just like my all-time favorite bedroom below:

Our bedroom has a closet wall. However, the wall of closets was divided to two, with one opening to the office.

Bedroom closet

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Office closet

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This setup left very little closet space to the bedroom. Although I have been working towards a minimalist closet, I have a husband who does not throw away anything. Between Slav’s mom, who buys clothes and bedding for us constantly, and Slav himself, who refuses to let any old T-shirts go (“they carry memories!”), we need additional storage.

After consulting with Slav, we decided to get a storage bed. Coincidentally, the morning we went to IKEA, Emily Henderson published a post on storage bed. You bet I was reading through it while shopping in IKEA!

I love a storage bed that has simple lines and big drawers, like this one from Muji. I might ask Slav to build one in the future. But for now, we picked IKEA BRIMNES for its simplicity and storage capacity. Slav also wants it in black – he picked up the classy BEKVÄM stool in black too, which we had in NC but in birch color.

BRIMNES Bed frame with storage IKEA The 4 integrated drawers give you extra storage space under the bed.

This is how our bedroom looks like in our moving day – dirty window frames, old carpet, and cheap curtain rods.

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After removing the carpet, we threw our mattress on the floor, and lived like this for about another week.

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Slav spent a day to piece the storage bed together:

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meanwhile, the living room became a dump ground while waiting for its own IKEA furniture.

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At the last minute, we decided to rotate the bed 90 degrees. We gain 3 more inches this way for the drawers to be fully open.

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Waa-Daa!

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Slav also took the broken metal frame off the window and installed blinds. We plan to get bigger window down the road, so good window treatment can wait. We purposely mounted two big blinds (35″) side by side, so we can get an idea how 70″ wide window would work with the bed. We can also play with the length of the adjustable blinds to find a desired height for the new window sill.

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We did not like the king headboard options in IKEA, and we still do not know what type of headboard we want yet – antique? Something dramatic? With comfortable padding or bare wood? How tall should it be? I found this headboard on the Design Sponge. It will work for our bed, but it is a bit too modern for our taste.

What we had a clear vision for are the bedside tables. Slav has been using a drum his best friend gifted him a while back. It works for the few things he keeps next to bed. And any multi-function furniture is a win in my book.

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As for me, I have been hoarding a live edge for a while. I found it in a discount store for $10 in Nashville. It has since been used as a candle holder, a center piece for the dining table, and a kitchen shelf. But this is what I really want to use it for – as a bedside table.

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Two of the deep drawers hold our winter bedding and towels

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And the other two hold Slav’s shorts, jeans and winter layers.

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Slav has lots of pants and shorts, but he always piles them up and only wears the ones on the top of the pile. These drawers allow him to see all the pairs he has and provide easy access to any of them. Hopefully we can get more clothes into the mix.

We are only using the outer edge of the drawers – they are much deeper and can easily accommodate another line of clothing. But I have no plant to fill every drawer to the brim in this house. We voted on not buying any outfit until we consume what we have in hand. In another words, we will only be REPLACING our clothes.

With the heavy stuff out of the way, we are able to fit all of our clothes in the two closets:

Bedroom closets

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Office closets

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All of my 3-season clothes are in the bedroom closet. Slav wears T-shirts and shorts 99% of the time, so his T-shifts and underwear are kept in the bedroom closet too. The office closet is filled with his shirts, sweaters and winter coats. He accumulated lots of them when he was young and lived in New York. But during the last 11 years of living in SoCal and the South, most of these clothes were just collecting dust. They will definitely get some use this winter! (Let it snow!)

We are still far from the minimalist closet I’d like to have. But we live in Colorado where winter clothes are needed, and they take a lot of space. We have the plan to redo the closet with IKEA PAX system, and potentially to reverse the office closet to create a bigger bedroom closet. For now, I put up a pair of curtains over the bedroom closet for a cleaner look:

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These curtains are also from IKEA.

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We hung only one painting – the one Slav gifted me at our last anniversary:

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It is painted by Adam Faglio, our favorite Polish painter. He is a family friend and what he painted is the castle in Slav’s hometown. You can see more of his work here.

Our bedroom is far from finished, but it is clean, comfortable, functional, and minimal. I’d like to bring some plants into the room, and get snow white bedding when we need to replace our current ones. I love this bedroom from the Design Sponge. And I think green plants and a bigger window will make our minimalist bedroom a truly peaceful place.

Minimalist Wardrobe

Look at this baby:

Is it your closet? You may ask. No… I wish. But I am getting there.

It is possible for me to have such a closet. I only wear black, white, blue and grey, I wear two pairs of shoes for the whole year, and I work in academic so nothing is too causal.

It is also great for me to have such a closet. I do not take pleasure from anything appearance-related (including cosmetic), I do not want to spend more than 5 minutes in the morning to get ready, and I only allow a small budget for clothes.

So there we go, when I heard the concept about minimalist wardrobe like this “50 item wardrobe“, I am like “Woohoo! Now I finally have an excuse to do this!”. it is like that being part of a movement made it more legit to dress simply. And this feeling is wrong wrong wrong in many levels: First, when do I ever feel guilty about not dressing up? I is true that I was told that wearing only black is “depressing” and “uninteresting” but who cares right? People should wear what makes THEMSELVES feel good and look good, not for anyone else’s opinion. Second, why do I worry that underdressed will make me “uninteresting”? If you are a fond of me, either as a friends or as a romantic partner, you probably see pass my worn-out grey T-shirt and are more interested what beneath (my heart and soul of course). So why bother to worry how other people think of something they do not even care?

But I still felt guilty enough to keep lots of unworn, colorful, and “interesting” clothes that I might never wear in my closet. So for a change, I am gonna ONLY keep the clothes that brings me joy and I cannot wait to wear. I am part of the movement now and this makes me feel like a bad-ass feminist more than ever.

Anyway, I am here, inspired by Hej Doll. She had this wardrobe which is greeeeat. You can tell that she really does “buy less, choose well, pay more“, She owns only 50 items that are in good quality and can last many washes. They also go with each other whichever way you pair them, which makes travel very easy. She has this amazing series called Travel Light which teaches how to pack light and travel for 10 days with just a carry-on.

I probably will never get to as few as 50 items, because I will live somewhere with four seasons and I have lots of stuff for skiing. I made a list of the cloth I am atively wearing and there are about 60 items if we do not count sport clothes. 🙂

And here is what I have done:
1. Donate everything I have the opportunity to wear but rather not, regardless for what reason;
2. For the ones does fit and I do not hate, box and store everything I have not worn in the past two years and I will donate them by the end of this year if I still have not worn them;
3. Only buy a piece of clothing if I cannot wait to wear. It is OK I have something really similar in my closet;
4. Only buy shoes to replace the current ones. So that means one in, one out.
5. Buy quality, not quantity. And only go to the mall/online when I need something.

I actually did my purge in September and have lived by these rules for the last three months. The result is great. I did added a couple more exercise clothing, aka yoga pants, but in general my closet has been getting smaller and it has been much easier to get ready in the mornings. On weekdays, since I only have two jeans – blue and black. So which jeans I wear automatically decided which shoes I wear. The only decision I make is which grey T-shirt I wear with the black jeans or which white T-shirt I wear with the blue jeans. I wear black tops if I feel fancy. Most my jackets and coats are hanging by the door so I just take the one on my way out depending on the weather. On weekend I wear leggings with Tunic and boots. It. Is. That. Simple.

Maybe one day I will have Seth Brundle’s closet  – Well I am still afraid people around me will think that I am a freak. But maybe 5 years later I will be “who cares”, right?

Sp how do you organize your closet? Do you purge?

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