Can I Be a Minimalist and Still Own Tchotchkes?

Use these three simple questions to live a more minimalist lifestyle (and still own a few tchotchkes)

What comes to mind when you hear the word "minimalism"? A stark white interior? Only owning a prescribed number of items? To me, minimalism represents a pared down home and lifestyle. And at the same time, I own a few tchotchkes.

Even thought these items are decorative and not functional, they are items brought into my home, and kept in my home with careful consideration. 

This little sheep sits on my desk simply because he makes me smile. 

This little sheep sits on my desk simply because he makes me smile. 

Instead of looking at living a minimalist lifestyle as trying to avoid purchases or eliminate items in our life to the bare bones, I prefer to keep or acquire items based on the three simple questions below. If you're looking to live a minimalist lifestyle (and maybe own a few tchotchkes) you can use these questions too!

1.  Is this item useful? If so, is it actually used or will I actually use it? 

2. Why do I want to keep or purchase this item? Do I like my reason? You get to decide. 
What do I mean by "Do I like my reason?" Here is an example: I may simply find something beautiful and want to purchase it. There is a special spot in my office where I know it will fit perfectly. I like this reason - it feels fun to treat myself. Alternately, I may receive a gift that doesn't fit into my lifestyle. I feel guilt around giving it away so it sits in the closet. I don't like this reason - it feels heavy and burdensome. 

3. Would I invite this item into my life or buy it if I was purchasing it today? 

Asking these questions allows you to move away from an external vision of minimalism towards a minimalist lifestyle that rings true for you. Your answers provides a framework within which you can eliminate the distractions and clutter that build over time. They also allow you to focus on the items you feel are most important and hold the greatest value for you and your family.  

Every minimalist lifestyle and home will look different, and that's ok. The key is that we ask ourselves, on on regular basis, what objects add or subtract value from our lives. We answer honestly, act accordingly, and give ourselves the freedom to live with possessions that are meaningful to us in the present moment.  

Have you tried applying these questions to your belongings? Let me know how it goes? 

A Can of Paint and New Beginnings

Sealed within a can of paint is a sense of revitalization, possibility, and new beginnings. 

Painting a room seems to be one of everyone's favorite ways to transform a room. This makes sense. Color can dramatically alter the look and feel of a space, the materials are relatively inexpensive, and, if so inclined, most of us have enough skill to complete the job ourselves. But what about the less tangible allure of a fresh coat of paint? I'd argue that sealed within that metal can is a sense of revitalization, possibility, and a new beginning. 

A Can of Paint and New Beginnings

Consider when fresh paint is often applied. Often it is because a room is about to serve a new purpose. There is change in your own life. You move into your first home and want to put your mark on the space. Perhaps a room is converted into a home office where you will begin your entrepreneurial adventure. Or, the former guestroom will become a nursery where you'll spend sleepless nights, experience moments of joy as you hear a first giggle, and realize with utter frustration this tiny human does, in fact, have a mind of their own. 

When I look at selecting paint with my designer eyes I see the technical aspects explaining why it can be so difficult. Extrapolating how a tiny sample will appear when the color is applied to all four walls or understanding the nuances of color undertones can be tricky, but what about the emotional aspects of choosing a paint color? When there is little certainty around life changes, as there rarely is, we can cling to things we can have control over. Could it be that the pressure we put on ourselves to get our new beginning "right" transfers to a concrete decision we can make right now - like a can of paint? 

Does this idea resonate with you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

PS - Advice on how to select paint colors is one of the most common requests I receive. Next week I'll share my designer secrets to selecting a paint color you love. Stay tuned. 

Five Secrets to (Almost) Stress-Free Travel with Kids

Traveling with children may not be as easy as traveling solo, but with some planning, there are ways to make your "trip" feel less stressful and more like a "vacation."

Do you think there is a difference between a vacation and a trip? I've heard parents describe a vacation as an occasion where you can relax, take a break from daily responsibilities, and maybe even read a book(!). On the other hand, a trip is a journey to a destination with your children - it may be a beautiful destination - but there is still an element of effort and work involved. As much as we love our children they do require some tending to! 

To make break up the cold Minnesota winters our family loves to get out of town. With a three year old and a 6 month old this can be tricky, but we do it frequently enough that we've found a way to travel with kids and have it go smoothly. Below are my top five tips for traveling with children (almost) stress-free.

5 Secrets to Stress Free Travel with Kids

1. Rent a house or condo
Hotels are expensive and quarters are tight. By staying at a vacation rental you'll be able to cook at home for some or all of your meals. This is less expensive, healthier, and much less stressful than dining out with young children. You'll also have a place to hang out after the kids go to sleep. No tip-toeing around and you will be able enjoy an uninterrupted conversation over a glass of wine. Lastly - this is my favorite - you'll have access to laundry. Once you have children there is no such thing as "traveling light." The ability to do laundry means there is less clothing to pack and less to suitcases to haul through the airport. I recommend Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) for booking vacation rentals.

2. Sign up for express or rewards programs
As you know, waiting in long lines with children is no fun.  Most airlines and rental car companies have their own rewards programs. Check out your preferred companies and see what they can offer.  After waiting in an exceptionally long rental car line (with a very busy toddler) my husband discovered that Dollar-Rent-A-Car has a free express program that has saved us some serious time and frustration. 

3. Have a plan
Get specific here. Consider things like who is taking what luggage, who is responsible for what children, etc. In the middle of airport chaos, while one child is running off, is not a good time to figure these things out. Here is an example of our airplane boarding. I always board the plane first while my husband waits with the kids at the gate. I have time to gate-check the stroller and set up snacks and games in our seats so we are organized and ready to go. When it's near the end of boarding, my husband brings the kids on. Our three year old has had fun watching the planes and hasn't had to sit still in his seat for longer than necessary (there is only so long they can contain their wiggles!). 

4. Centralize the details of the trip
Send yourself one email or create a document in Evernote that contains all of the information you will need once you arrive (rental car confirmation numbers, the address where you are staying, etc). When everyone is tired and needs a snack you won't have to waste time scrolling through dozens of emails to find the information you need. 

5. Set expectations
This is a family trip but it doesn't mean you can't carve out a little "me time" while you are there. Before the trip talk to your significant other about expectations or priorities you both have for the trip and strategize how you can meet those wishes. For example, on our last trip I wanted to take a daily exercise walk outside. By being upfront about this priority we could deliberately plan for that time instead of me just hoping it might fit into the day. 

Traveling with children is certainly not as easy as traveling solo but there can be so much joy in the unstructured time away from your daily routines. It takes some planning, but there are ways to make your "trip" feel less stressful and more like a "vacation."

I hope you and your families will have the opportunity to see a little sunshine, spend quality time, and explore new areas together this winter. I'd love to hear where you are headed!

Why We Have Too Much "Stuff" - Part 3 - Sentimental Objects

Objects that evoke strong emotions or memories are complicated. Below are 6 ways to honor sentimental objects without their physical presence

We all have excess items in our lives which is why I began to discuss why we hold on to these objects. I've concluded that most excess items in our lives fall into three categories. In part one of this post I discussed aspirational items, or objects that represent the person we want to be. In part two, I discussed the objects in our lives that represent the person you used to be. Today, in the third and final part of this post I will discuss the most complicated of excess items - sentimental objects, or objects that evoke strong memories.

Fabric by Christopher Farr Cloth

Fabric by Christopher Farr Cloth

Objects that evoke strong memories or emotions
Sometimes sentimental objects are items that bring you pleasure, such as a platter passed down from generations that is always brought out for special occasions, but sometimes sentimental items can feel weighty. Perhaps an item was a gift from a close family member or friend. The gesture was appreciated but the item does not suit your lifestyle or aesthetic. Or perhaps it was a favorite reading chair passed down from your father. You can picture him sitting in it reading the paper every night. But you haven't looked at it or used it in a long time because it's in a storage unit or it's not practical in your home. Emotions tied to our belongings are complicated so it's often easier to simply hold tight to these items. Today I challenge you to consider the possibility that the emotional ties and corresponding memories can live on without physical possession of the item. 

Below are ways to cherish and honor sentimental objects in your life when you are ready to move on from their physical presence.

1. Take a photo
This can be especially helpful if you have a lot of large items taking up space. Photos can be placed in an album for future viewing and sharing. If it's a unique collection you might consider having select favorites professionally photographed. Create a gallery of these images on the wall as a way to experience the objects as art. 

2. Select one item from the collection
My grandma had an extensive collection of Hummel figurines. As a little girl I loved to look at each one as she carefully brought them down from her display. When she passed I knew I did not have the space (or the desire) to keep the entire collection. However, I did decide to hold onto one figurine in particular, the "Little Pharmacist." Of all of the figurines I remember delighting in his dripping medicine bottle. One piece of her collection is able to revive those memories while not requiring me to keep the entire collection. 

"Little Pharmacist" Hummel from my Grandma

"Little Pharmacist" Hummel from my Grandma

3. Imagine the joy the object will bring to someone else
This item may not suit you, but it could be the perfect addition to someone else's life. When you pass on an item think of how someone else will incorporate the object into their own life. It could become a cherished piece of someone else's family.

4. Consider how you could replace the object with something you would actually use
If you didn't have this item taking up space, how would you feel? Would you feel relief at having the extra space or maybe there is another item you actually would use that could take its physical space? If you are selling the item for cash or using it as a trade you can think of the gifted as having helped you bring this new item into your life.

5. Repurpose the item
Does your grandmother's buffet not fit in with your décor? Consider painting it or changing out the hardware. Or maybe you don't have a formal dining room where you feel it ought to be place. What if you reimagined the purpose of the buffet? Could it become a TV console or dresser that you would be able to use?  

6. Journal or write a story about the item, a specific memory, or its effect on your life
If looking at or touching the item brings a rush of memories take some time to sit with those emotions. Pull out your favorite writing tools or create a voice recording to capture the place this item once held in your life. Attach a snapshot so when you share your story with others they have a visual.

This is not to say you need to get rid of everything, but it does mean that you should be selective. If you decide to keep something for sentimental reasons, how can you incorporate the object into your everyday life or at the very least, find a way to incorporate the item(s) on a regular basis?

What is the biggest challenge you face when deciding what items to part with? What are the items that are so special they remain in your life? 

"Seasons" of Decorating

Designing for this "Season" or Stage of Life

I've never been much of a seasonal decorator in the traditional sense, and that is not the topic of today's post. The seasons I'm referencing are the seasons of life that we pass through as time progresses. From being single to being married, and from welcoming your first born to becoming an empty-nester, the seasons of our lives affect everything from lifestyle to relationships. These seasons of life can also dramatically affect the way we live in our homes and the requirements we place on a physical space. Since having our children I now understand, and have come to embrace, what it means to design for this season or stage of life.

Photo by Lemon Drop Photography

Photo by Lemon Drop Photography

This concept hit me on my first project back from maternity leave. I was in a pinch and had to bring my three month old son to a client's install. As my son became fussy I took him out of his carrier and held him while the client and I walked around the loft to discuss art placement. As most infants are prone to doing, my son abruptly spit up - splat - onto the new area rug I had just delivered. Oops. As I panicked to find something to clean the mess, my client, in a mater of fact way, said "it probably won't be the last time someone throws up on that rug." This man was single and was referencing a future party that would likely have a start time that is way past my bedtime. We were in different seasons of life.  

Now that our son is a toddler spitting up is the least of my concerns. His ability to run, jump, and do it all in a mater of seconds means the season we are in right now involves making sure nothing is too precious or pointy - goodbye glass coffee table. Everything is stain protected, nothing is easily tipped over or breakable, and I look forward to the day I can put our side tables back in the living room where they belong (side tables are not meant to be used as a climbing apparatus!). Does my home look Pinterest perfect? No it does not, and I'm ok with that.  I choose to embrace the way this season of life looks, for it is just that, a season. Some day my son won't want to dump his trucks all over the living room. I'll be happy to have that space back but I'll also miss this period where imaginative play is at its peak. I also recognize that as he grows there will be new design requirements. Before I know it I'll be incorporating a homework station into the kitchen and we will have a mudroom full of gear for his favorite extracurricular activities.

While your home is a reflection of yourself and your tastes, it is also very much a reflection of your season in life. And, just like anything in life, the current stage is ever-evolving. As you evolve, as your seasons change, so must the spaces in which you live.

What season of life are you in these days?

Don't Wait to Live Well: Elevate Your Everyday Life

What Are You Waiting For? The Time to Make Everyday Special is Now!

Way back when my now husband was still my fiancé and we were registering for the wedding I remember contemplating adding a Boden French press to our registry (I do love coffee!). To me, having the time to slowly brew the coffee and then sit around drinking it lazily seemed like the ultimate luxury. This image didn't seem to fit with my current state of renting a small apartment and living on the cheap so I passed. In my mind's eye I envisioned drinking my French press once we had purchased a home, while sitting on the porch, reading a book.  Something I would do in the future when life was different; a luxury I could wait to attain.

How to Elevate Your Everyday Life

Looking back on that experience has me thinking about how often we neglect the simple pleasures life has to offer. Small upgrades and rituals, that often require minimal effort or expense, can be so impactful when it comes to our day-to-day living. In some ways I think is the result of my ability to delay gratification, a trait that has served me well in many ways. Essentially delayed or deferred gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate, smaller reward and wait for a later, larger reward.  A growing body of research has linked the ability to delay gratification to many positive outcomes such as academic success, physical health, psychological health and social competence. Delaying gratification can be an essential element in being able to reach your higher goals, but it can also be easy to get trapped in this cycle and neglect opportunities to live well now. Without awareness, the rainbow keeps growing and you never reach the pot of gold. 

At work the following week my registry experience somehow came up in conversation with an older co-worker. He laughed, kindly, at my thought process. He pointed out that life would never really slow down in the way that I imagined- the busy just changes. It was a simple remark but oh so accurate. As much as we plan we really don't know what the future will look like so it's important to consciously choose ways to improve our daily lives and appreciate what constitutes a life well lived in the present. 

I'm happy to say that I updated the registry, received my very own French press for our wedding, and made a slow brew coffee part of my weekend ritual. Had I waited for my ideal coffee-brewing scenario to materialize I would still be waiting. Shortly after moving into our first home we started a family. With a toddler I drink my coffee a little more quickly these days, but I still savor every moment. 

Today I encourage you to brainstorm a list of simple enhancements that could provide a significant impact to daily living. These are what I like to call an Everyday Upgrade. This could be a set of new bath towels that wraps you in cozy warmth, it could be a beautiful bowl from which you eat your breakfast every morning, or even a new case for your iPhone in a color or pattern that delights you. Select just one to implement this week and see where it takes you. 

What's your Everyday Upgrade and how has it impacted your daily living?