Becoming Minimalist: Holiday Shopping

We're a family of gifters. In my pre-recession, suburban America, Father of the Bride youth, gifts were always a big part of the holiday experience.

This may sound terrible and might not even be true, but in my memory the fact that my parents were divorced helped to drive some of that gift giving. Growing up, I had elementary school classmates who would pick my brain, and eagerly ask what it was like to have divorced parents.

"It's not so bad," I'd say. "You get two Christmases and two birthdays, which means twice as many presents."

How's that for perspective?

Ever grateful, this attitude towards gifting extended into my adult years. I love giving and getting gifts, and often find the wishlists I build for myself in Gmail drafts and on Pinterest are more closely fit for a Palo Alto teenage heir rather than me, who is an adult and could just as easily buy a new pair of yoga pants herself.

In sync with both "the times" and with our natural progression of aging, life changes, etc., my family has backed off of the whole holiday gifting thing a little bit. Mainly because there are more important things than things, and because we're extremely fortunate and can say that none of us actually need anything at all. 

Maybe you've heard, but sometimes the best gifts are the smallest. Case in point – this postcard sent from Scotland by my friend Bridget. It wasn't really a gift at all and yet it made my week.

Though giving is still a part of our holiday festivities, we've slowly shifted towards gifting in smaller, more practical, intentional, and meaningful ways. If you're looking to add a minimalist slant to your holiday season and tone down the shopping, there are a few ways to give gifts intentionally without going overboard.

Here, a few tips on holiday shopping as a minimalist:

Give experiences

I'm sure you read that Atlantic article a while back that declared that experiences have been proven to give us longer lasting, more fulfilling pleasure than things, right? Use that idea and scale it according to the size of gift you want to give. It could be anything from a simple one-on-one dinner out at a new restaurant, something as a big as a trip, or something as everyday as a credit towards a gym or yoga studio – I got this for my birthday, and loved it. Whatever it is, gift experiences that require extra thought, planning, and care. You really can't go wrong.

Useful leisure

My favorite category of gifts has been coined (by me) as "useful leisure".

"What the hell does that mean?", you ask. A useful leisure gift can be defined as any item that's practical, but also carries pleasure. For example, a new pair of yoga pants could count as useful leisure. It might not seem like the most wacky, "fun" gift in the world, but the recipient might really love them and use them. Other examples: magazine subscriptions, a good sweater/fleece/something cozy, a note card set, gift card to Whole Foods, new pair of sneakers. You get the idea.

Set gift maximums

Whether in cost or quantity, setting a gift maximum is the best way to keep holiday gifting under control. As long as no one breaks the rules, this assures that everyone is getting (and giving) fewer items which means that ultimately less money is being spent, less clutter is being accumulated, and overall the gifts you are giving will be that much more memorable. Win win.

 

Does your family or group of friends still give gifts? Do you set maximums? What's your approach or, dare I say, strategy to holiday gift giving? This (somewhat) converted minimalist would love to hear. 

 

Becoming Minimalist: How To Simplify The Way You Dress

Recently I conquered the needlessly daunting task of backing up photos from my phone to an external hard drive. Moving files from one device to another really shouldn't be that big of a deal, but for whatever reason it just is and therefore I tend to avoid it.

As the shockingly large number of photos started showing up my computer screen – hundreds (thousands?) from the past two years that I had been afraid to take off my phone for fear of losing them – I noticed how much my style had changed in that period alone. Like with most things, we never really realize how much they've changed until one day they're just different. Suddenly, you see a photo and have that woah moment about how much has happened while you were living and not looking. It's startling, humbling, sometimes scary.

When it comes to style, this shock of change is bound to happen – our personal style warps and molds with trends, locations, preferences, and the rest. In flipping through those photos, I noticed how much I had begun to simplify the way I dress over the past few years – colored tights disappeared, as did "fun" belts and basically anything with embroidery, excess, or superfluous details. Thanks to my process of minimalizing that came with our move to the States, paired with life in my late 20s, I'd finally (finally) began to figure out my taste. 

My personal style blueprint, if you will, had finally shown up at my doorstep. That relative constant that would serve as the starting point for the trends and fleeting preferences that would no doubt come and go. I know now that my personal style is solids over prints with the exception of stripes, and fit and comfort over all else. I like odd bits here and there, and my taste for late 60s/early 70s New York shows up time and time again. 

For those of you who are still looking to find your elusive personal style, there are a few things that guided me on my path to simplification and holy style salvation. These thoughts and tips, listed below, helped me simplify the way I dress and find my now-and-hopefully-forever style:

Think about what you reach for in the mornings

You know that piece of career advice, where people tell you to think about what you would do if you weren't being paid and then do that for a living? ("Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life.") While that may or may not be the best advice, I have thoughts both ways, I do think this mindset is a good one to use while searching for your personal style. Think about what you love and feel good in, and what you reach for when you go to your closet in the mornings. Jeans and a button down? T-shirt dress? The style and fit of the outfit you automatically reach for in the mornings should be your focus. Use this 'go to' outfit as a foundation for that personal style blueprint and chances are you'll be happy with the result.

 

Embrace comfort

Not talking fleece and yoga pants, though I do wear my Dear Kate's far more than I should. When it comes to clothing, you should wear what fits and what makes you feel comfortable. You shouldn't have to tug on your shirt every three minutes, wear shoes that require half a box of Band Aids, or pants that don't allow you to eat. It makes no sense and ridding your wardrobe of these items will make you a heck of a lot happier. You want clothing that doesn't need an explanation – I can only wear these shoes if... or I just have to use a safety pin on this shirt. It's unnecessary and unneeded. No picking, no pulling, no questions.

Accept trends, cautiously

I love a good trend. They're fun and should be embraced, with caution. Rather than buying a new wardrobe of trendy items every season, focus on one color or shape and buy a piece or two in that direction. That's all you really need anyway, and buying fewer items means that you're more likely to keep and wear them later. 

 

Buy what you want to buy

This can be a hard one to put in practice, because it often means purchasing items that are slightly out of budget. But hear me out. I often equate fashion to food, and this is perhaps the best example of why I make the connection between the two. Think about how you feel when you have a sugar craving – if you want something sweet, you should have the sweet thing that you want rather than eating 20 other things in hopes of fulfilling your craving. And if you see an item of clothing that you really want, you should think long and hard about it, look at the financial repercussions and then, if possible, buy it. You'll most likely feel glad you bought the item you wanted rather than the 20 Urban Outfitters knockoff filler items you don't really love and didn't want in the first place.

 

That's what I've done and so far, it's worked wonders. I'm happier, my wardrobe is smaller, and I love every single thing that I buy. Do you have a shopping strategy, an all-important "uniform", or anything you wear on a day-to-day basis? I'd love to hear!


Becoming Minimalist: The Case for Shopping Slow

It happens almost every week. 

I come across an item that I feel like I can't live without, and I'll obsess over it to a ridiculous degree. Maybe it's a pair of shoes or a new bag, or a dress. Whatever it is, the item of the week will dominate my thoughts in a pointless but addictive way, as only the desire for material items can.

(Good job, modern world. Nicely done, self.)

In a former life, I would shop quickly, without giving my purchases much thought. Assuming the item of the week was something fashion related (it always is), I would imagine myself wearing it a few different ways, then grab it and bag it.

Purchase complete.

But now, my shopping habits look a bit different. If you've been following this blog, then you'll know that after multiple, dusty moves throughout my 20s, I made a commitment to focus on the "fewer, but better" mindset that's become so on-trend these days. Quality over quantity, less is best, etc.

Perhaps the most prominent  aspect of my new preference for minimalism is my approach towards shopping. Rather than shopping the way I once did – thoughtfully, but quickly – I now shop slow. Very slow. Slow to the point that I analyze every purchase and give it a lot of thought before I spend my money.

It can be overwhelming to embrace the concept of shopping slow, but I assure you that it can be done. And once you begin, you might be surprised at how easy it is to change those overpowering, quick-to-buy habits of yours. This is how it's done:

 

1. Shop online only

Shopping in a brick and mortar store can be a better experience for a lot of reasons – especially if we're talking about an amazingly curated local boutique. But if the item you're longing for can easily be purchased almost anywhere – like, let's say, Tevas, my item of obsession this week – then you should make your purchase online. Shopping online allows you to take your time and think about a purchase rather than making a rushed, impulse decision in a store.

Furthermore, consider shopping at local, independent boutiques. Aside from the fact that you'll support a small business owner, you're also far less likely to encounter the overpowering marketing strategies, not to mention crazy loud Rihanna soundtrack and fluorescent lighting, that you might find at a chain store. A chain store's overstimulating atmosphere can make it hard to think straight – much less to think thoughtfully. 

 

2. Wait a week before you buy (or at least a few days)

Before you commit to a purchase, set a self-imposed waiting limit of three days. If you can do a week, then that's even better. Chances are that no matter how much you want something, you might change your mind a few days later when an unexpected bill comes up – or when you see something you want even more.

 

3. Review your wardrobe

I know – sorry. This one sucks, because it's all about facing reality aka not fun. This step is usually where shopping dreams come to die. But listen here: Before you make a purchase, look hard at what you already own. If you want to buy a new pair of black sandals but already have three pairs, consider how often you will realistically wear the new pair. Don't ignore reality and try to justify your purchase. Instead, imagine your new shoes in your closet and think about when you would actually wear them. 

The Pursuits of Happiness necklace, ACADEMY bangle, jujumade earrings

Shopping slow ain't for everyone, that's for sure, and there are downsides to shopping this way.

Giving a lot of thought to every purchase can lead to guilt for having spent money once you do finally make a purchase, and OCD-level obsessions about even the tiniest of product details.

No matter. In the end, your bank account and your closet will thank you for it. And aside from all of that very but mommm!-esque information, the good news is this: When you shop slow, everything you buy feels like a treasure.

And before you know it, everything in your closet will be something you truly love and are glad you purchased. Case closed.


Real, Simple

You know, I'm really not one for resolutions or even goals for that matter.

Resolutions feel fake – for me, the most impactful changes tend to happen naturally throughout the course of the year. Putting a date on a desired change feels beside the point. It doesn't make me work any harder, it doesn't make the change happen any faster. Plus, resolutions are ideas that are made up to coincide with the month of January. (No offence, people who make resolutions.)

And goals? I have them. They look like this: Improve my financial stability, have a hyper-organized home office and a place that I own to put it in. I think of these more as "to do" items mainly because I put a lot of pressure on myself and the idea of creating a goal only adds more pressure. (And again, Good Girl Syndrome.)

I haven't yet embraced the now-trendy idea of giving yourself a word for the year. If you're not familiar with the practice, the idea is to give yourself a word to focus on for the year. Not a goal, not really a resolution, but more like a general, inspirational theme to base your life around. (Think of words like balance, well, refresh, etc.) 

This hasn't appealed to me partially because of the reasons listed above; mainly because I couldn't think of a good word.

But I do have a word that's becoming more like my general life practice. It's something I started last year, want to focus on in 2015, and continue with afterward.

The word, the idea, the very being is that of simplification.

Much like my slow embrace of minimalism which started last year with material items, I'm now looking to incorporate the idea of simplifying into all other aspects of my life. Deleting apps I don't use on my phone, organizing my Google Drive, minimizing work projects, multitasking less during the work day/all days. Of course, when it comes to simplifying, the mental/emotional and material worlds overlap. I'm now at a point – so deep in my "quest" (I guess) for simplification where I'm not second guessing or double checking – I'm listening to my gut and trusting my instincts.

It's saying no to projects, donating things I don't use, deleting e-mails, throwing out random socks or recycling tiny pieces of paper that could be reused (why do I keep these things?). It's cleaning the dishes as I use them, keeping my desk sparse as I work, buying a few nice things at the drugstore when I need them rather than a million cheaper things.

In other words, simplifying daily life in all forms. 

The idea here isn't to waste but to eliminate excess. I want my life to feel as clean and simple as it possibly can, so I'm ridding it of anything and everything that adds physical or mental clutter.

I've streamlined some of my work projects and will have some exciting things to announce in the coming weeks. I'm also going to stop using my blog Facebook page, and turn most of my attention to Instagram. (I know – keep breathing.) But it's even the little things like this – one more status not to update, please – that make me feel so much better.

So there. I guess my word of 2015 is simplify. I'm still not sure about the whole "word of the year" thing, but so far, I guess it's working pretty well.


Becoming Minimalist: Moving Tips

In case you're out of the loop, this dude and I are in the process of moving from London to the U.S.. And lord, is it a process.

I made the first leg of our move over the break – I'm currently in North Carolina, albeit temporarily since half of my life is still in London – and will be going back to finish everything up before we both settle, finally, this summer in Durham.

If you've ever lived between two countries then you're well-aware of the many difficulties involved. Like dealing with phone contracts, insurance plans, and carting paperwork across the ocean.

Since we'll be shipping most of our stuff over to North Carolina in the spring, when I came over last month for the holidays I brought little with me. Like, very little. Like one suitcase little. 

Last year I embraced a more minimalistic lifestyle which has helped me to no end in this move. When I was packing up just before the holidays, I found that the easiest part of my move rather than what once would've been the hardest was choosing what clothes and shoes to bring with me. Suddenly, putting "outfits" together seemed like the least important thing largely due to some prep work I'd done ahead of time.

Whether you're planning a move or are heading out on a long-haul holiday, here are a few minimalist moving tips to get you started on your packing:

1. Review each item individually

This is the first step in the process of packing like a minimalist. I'll be honest – this step is a lot of work, but it's also worth your time. To start, look at each item you plan to bring with you on your move. Taking the time to give each piece the attention that it deserves will help you to determine how much you like it or use it. If we're talking clothes, take every single item out of your closet – one by one. Think about the last time you wore the item, think about whether it's comfortable, and think about if you really want to wear it. Make sure you do the same thing with paperwork, old birthday cards, photos you printed at CVS in 2007, etc.

When I was working on this step, my mouth actually dropped open a few times. I can't even tell you how many magazine tear outs I brought along on my Brooklyn to London move in 2012. I also apparently took the time and, essentially, spent the money to move these tear outs throughout London without knowing I even had them in the first place.

Trust me – you won't believe some of the stuff you're holding on to. 

 

2. Give yourself some space

After you've gone through everything you plan to bring with you on your move, give yourself some time to let it all sink in. A month is ideal but if time doesn't allow, review all of your items again a few weeks or even days later. The idea here is to perform multiple edits, as there will be many items you don't want that you won't catch the first time around. 

'Scuse the wrinkles and fuzz!

3. Set a limit and stick to it

Because I made the unwise decision to fly an American airline when coming to North Carolina last month, I was limited to one piece of luggage in which to pack my temporary life. My winter-appropriate clothes and shoes, toiletries, paperwork, and Christmas gifts all had to fit in one measly bag. In the end, this limit helped me to pack in a much smarter, more conscious way.

And while I don't recommend flying the carrier I chose(I'm looking at you, United), I do recommend setting bag and box limits for your move. Once your set number of bags or boxes is filled, you're done. It sounds harsh but will help you become a better editor in the end.

 

4. Imagine yourself in your new environment

Remember: At some level, every single thing that you move will cost. Think long and hard about this before you pack those ZARA pants that don't really fit, the sneakers that rub your ankles, and those Christmas cards you got from your co-workers years ago. 

Imagine yourself on the other side of your move, when you open a box or piece of luggage and find these items. Do they really have a place in your new home? Will unpacking them bring you joy? If the answer is no, get rid of them before your move and save yourself some money, time, space, and – sometimes most importantly – mental clutter.

A few more thoughts on my experience with minimalism and moving:

It's almost as if in the mere act of getting rid of things, I found what I was really looking for.

All of those clothes, all that shopping, all that money, space, and time. I don't know what I was trying to fill by buying so much but I know that by slowing those actions I found whatever I was missing before, and found what I was looking for. 

 

Want more minimalism? Check out these posts: 

Why I'm Getting Rid Of One Thing, Every Day

What Happened When I Got Rid Of One Thing, Every Day

Thoughts On Mindful Shopping




Becoming Minimalist: Thoughts On Mindful Shopping

Embracing minimalism started with my move to London two years ago.

As I wrote about, there's nothing quite like the task of getting all of your items from a rented apartment in Brooklyn to a rented flat in southwest London to really make you think about what you own. Picture many, many suitcases, a shipping drop-off center, a waiting period, a van driver's buzz at the front door, and a girl answering that door and dragging her belongings up the stairs one...step...at a time to her new second floor flat.

If that doesn't convince you to clean up and clear out well then christ, not much will.

Favorite new shorts cut from my husband's old pants; beloved Chinti & Parker striped top purchased at a Notting Hill sample sale in my early London days

Minimalism had to do with my big move, definitely. But the desire to reduce my number of belongings is an emotional choice as much as a practical one. I plan to carry much less with me when I head to North Carolina at the end of the year. And with fewer physical items, I have a renewed sense of clarity.

Quite frankly, there's just not room up there for all of that clutter.

The slow embrace of minimalism is not just about letting go of what you no longer want, need, or use, it's also about changing the way you view consumption in general. 

Let's go back for a minute. While I won't bore you with details, let's just say that I used to shop...a lot. I mean, every girl under the age of 25 shops a lot, but my love for fashion and desire to work in an industry where you "need" to look good, paired with that full, pre-recession consumerist lifestyle and shows like "The Hills" and "Rich Girls" convinced me that I needed to shop, shop again, and then again.

And man alive, it felt good.

But that good feeling that I used to get from over consuming was shallow and fleeting, and left me wanting to buy something again the next day. Which I did.

As I've aged, I've shed that desire. I believe this change to be a product of the post-recession embrace of all-things local and genuine, my personal growth, and my desire to only own things that I truly value.

Favorite black crewneck that I've worn for years; new earrings from a sweet friend at Formula

This desire to own less and enjoy more is one that's constantly evolving and growing.

Nowadays, when it comes to shopping for material goods, I try to purchase from independent designers and retailers as much as possible. It's a cliche at this point, but there really is something to say about the feeling you get from purchasing something from a favorite designer found online or that independent card shop down the street. It's the connection, and the feeling that you're doing something good for someone who will appreciate the help.

I'm lucky that my line of work occasionally leads me to these people. In fact, one of my favorite things about writing women's magazine market stories is the research aspect – I love finding small shops and new designers, meeting them, and following them as they build their businesses. I had a jewelry line with two friends in my early New York years, so I get genuine joy out of learning about small businesses, hearing the stories, and helping to spread the goodness of quality products around.

I aim for everything in my closet to either come from a maker that I know or to at least have a good story behind it. It's a goal I'm slowly working toward. Getting rid of (most of) the bigger, less-fulfilling pieces, and focusing on the smaller, more important ones.

My wear-every-day vintage Adidas sneakers bought at a Saturday market near our second flat in London

That's my definition of minimalism. It's not just clearing out your closet and stopping consumption altogether, no sir.

For me, minimalism is about getting rid of anything that doesn't mean something real, and giving the things that do a place to shine.

What's your favorite place to shop? It can be a small business or a large business – no judgement here. Leave a comment and let me know!

This is the third installment of a multi-part series on embracing minimalism. Read part one here, and part two here. 

 


Becoming Minimalist: What Happened When I Got Rid of One Thing, Every Day

It's been just over a month since I wrote about my plan to "become minimalist" by getting rid of one thing, every day, for 30 days.

It sounded like a lofty goal at the time, but once I started on my minimalist mission, something interesting happened.

I couldn't stop getting rid of things. Once I took a hard look at what I owned, I was shocked at just how many things I didn't really, truly want.  Here's how I did it:

 

1. Start With Clothing

Maybe you're already the type of person who keeps a close watch on their wardrobe. If so, congrats! You're better than the rest of us.

For everyone else: Take a good, hard look at your wardrobe and get rid of everything that you don't really wear, don't really enjoy wearing, and that doesn't fit properly. If it doesn't fit and doesn't make you feel confident and amazing, it's gone  – no exceptions. This will be easier than you think.

 

2. Move On To Footwear

Follow the same rules as listed above. Any shoes that don't fit properly, hurt your feet, or that you just don't wear are out. No questions. Continue this same step with jewelry for women, and accessories for men. You'll be shocked at the sheer number of things you have that you don't completely like.

 

3. Books

This is a tough one. I'm happiest in a home that's filed with books – real ones, not electronic ones. But I noticed that I had a lot of books lying around that didn't hold a significant place in my life. There were plenty of books that I'd read, liked ok, and kept just to have. If you didn't love the book, don't plan on re-reading it, and don't have an emotional connection to it, why are you keeping it?

Becoming Minimalist: What Happened When I Got Rid of One Thing, Every Day | Second Floor Flat

 

4. Everything Else

It's time for both the hardest part, and the part that's the most fun. After I'd already given away all of my polyester el-cheapo pieces (I donated one shirt with a material that was so cheap it made my skin crawl. Why did I buy that?), I took a good, hard look at everything left around me. Quite literally, I'd start and end my day just standing in a room in our flat, looking at everything. After a few minutes, something that I didn't want would almost always pop out at me.

 

5. The Snowball Effect

When you're looking for things to give away, you'll discover that oftentimes once you find one piece, you'll find another…and maybe even another. Before you know it, you'll have a mini-pile of things ready to be donated. This is The Snowball Effect.

 

6. Sleep On It

Not sure about that shirt, or that book? Put it aside and go about your daily life. After a few days of looking at it and realizing how much you don't (or do) use it, you'll make a decision once and for all.

During my little month-long experiment, I donated at least one large garbage bag of items every single week. And my god, did it feel good.

It felt good to make a decision about something I had and realized I no longer needed. It felt good to drop off a bag at my local thrift store (charity shop), and it feels good now to be able to look through the clothes in my wardrobe and dresser, see what I have, and know that I really want them.

But the best part of this experiment – aside from the fact that it's opened me up, mentally – is that it's made me a much smarter consumer. I think about every single thing I buy now. If it's going to end up in another garbage bag on its way to a charity shop, why even do it?

So: now it's your turn. I totally, completely, definitely challenge you guys to get rid of one thing every day, for 30 days. Do it! And let me know how it goes.

This is the second installment in a multi-part series on embracing minimalism. Read part one here, and part three here.