Minimalism

Mindful Consumerism

I've written about our small house and how we've sorted and downsized our stuff through the years (leaving the USA in 2008, leaving Uruguay in 2010, moving within Córdoba in 2015) with the most recent downsizing thanks to Marie Kondo and her amazing book

But what I haven't said is...

we really don't buy stuff.

This isn't easy. It's not something that comes naturally. We work on it and struggle with it all the time. We WANT stuff. It's ingrained, taught from and early age. Now we're fighting against it. Every. Day.

We recently made our first clothing purchases in over a year. We bought 2 pair of pants & 2 shirts for our 7-year-old (she is 56"/142 cm tall and is going to be a giant like her parents) and two simple tops for me. That's it. 

Thankfully we have two girls. Everything from daughter #1 gets packed away according to size & season and saved for her younger sister. The girls wear uniforms to school and don't need many other things. As adults who work from home, we don't need work clothes like if we went into an office every day.  

When we do make purchases, we create lists for what we have versus what we need (I am a little obsessed with spreadsheets), including where we could get that item for the best quality, then watch for sales and strike when we can get a great deal. If possible, we prefer to wait until we're in the USA to make purchases, so sometimes that means delaying purchases for 6-12 months (or purchasing ahead of time, in anticipation). We find the quality is much better and the prices lower in the USA than purchasing in Argentina. 

We all still have too many clothes, among our too-much-stuff in general.  But we're working on that. 

Yes, there are things that we want, but nothing that we really NEED. That is the difference. 

We've switched from focusing on needs and wants, to focus on ENOUGH. We have more than enough to make us happy and comfortable. We do not NEED anything more in our lives

With our new, small house, we had to buy a bed for the girls (our previous house was furnished and their bed stayed with the house) but we've not purchased any new furniture. We have two desks, a kitchen table with chairs, a rocking chair and two beds. Thats basically it. In a small house, you don't need (and can't fit) much more. 

Here are a few of our questions about use, sustainability and function that influence our purchases: 

Can we repair or replace items when worn out? 

  • I have Birkenstocks (love them or hate them. I think they're amazing) that I purchased in Germany in 1996. Seriously. They have been re-soled 3 or 4 times, with footbeds replaced twice but these things are nearly indestructible and will be with me until I die. They've been well worth the expense nearly 20 years ago. Now the Vibram replacement soles are better than ever and will last even longer between re-soling. Bonus. 

Quality (and careful consideration) will outlast cheaper alternatives.

  • We will always spend more to buy quality items. They are usually a better design, long-lasting and sustainable/repairable. 
  • When our oldest was a baby, we bought an expensive, foreign-made, wooden highchair, the Stokke Tripp Trapp. We were already planning our move abroad, so we purchased with the consideration that this seat is not only beautiful, it packs flat for easy shipping/moving and thanks to adjustments & accessories, the seat can "grow" with the child(ren). We love this chair, our kids fight over it and we anticipate it'll be with us for many years to come, long after a typical high-chair would have been relegated to a yard sale. 

Can it serve more than one Purpose? Is it Multi-function?  

  • Because space is at a premium, both in our home and our luggage, we search for items that can be used in more than one way. 
  • One appliance that is the epitome of multi-function is our 14-year-old Braun MultiMix (a wedding present that is, unfortunately, no longer made). It's a standard hand mixer with interchangeable immersion blender attachment and mini food-processor. 
  • We practice the concept of "capsule wardrobes" where your closet is built from a certain color or colors, with almost everything being able to mix and match to make different combinations. My capsule consists of 20 main pieces for summer and another 15 for winter, with some overlap (this does not count accessories or athletic gear). It makes packing and travel much easier, too. 
  • I specifically buy products that can be re-used, repurposed or recycled. At the grocery store, I'll spend more for a product that comes in a jar that can be re-used for spices or dry goods, rather than a different packaging. (I avoid styrofoam and canned goods whenever possible).  

(I know I was just mentioning multi-purpose items, but...) 

Is the Simple Solution Better?

  • Why do I need a toaster when we rarely ever have bread in the house? A stovetop, oven or one of these nifty gadgets work great for warming up a tortilla or defrosting Low-carb Ricotta Pancakes (my favorite!!)  
  •  Although a huge pot of steaming hot coffee is appealing, it really is mediocre coffee (and our old drip coffeemaker broke. Twice). An old-fashioned percolator, press pot or our trusty AeroPress have few moving parts and less to break. (Okay, I must admit, I've broken a couple of press-pots in my day.) The routine of boiling water over the stove and physically going through the steps to make a cup of coffee is really simple but beautiful. 

Do we want to move it or sell it when it comes time to leave? 

  • We evaluate everything that comes into our life (even more with the small house) by asking ourselves, "Is this worth buying just to sell it or move it (internationally) within the not-so-distant-future?" Very often, that stops us in our recovering-from rampant-consumerism tracks. 
  • Since we are not in a "forever" home, city or country, we are okay with not having the perfect "thing" for every corner of the house. 

It is hard though, because while we're comfortable where we are in life and how we're living, I do want to feel settled somewhere, and that hasn't really happened in the last 7 years. We're not living out of suitcases, but we are keeping our eyes open for the next opportunity. A semi-nomadic lifestyle leads to (and alternatively is caused by) a restless spirit. Itchy feet. The travel bug. 

We're also a little jaded because we started off in our 20's with the American Dream that we're all indoctrinated with as kids in the US---

"Grow up, find a good job, get married, buy a house, fill it with stuff, have kids. That's what life is all about!"

Blah, blah, blah. 

We had all of that. For a time, we REALLY wanted to be like the Joneses. Then we decided that the house full of stuff, two new Euro-imports in the garage and our full-time jobs that we needed to afford all the stuff were not worth it.

And I guess our story really began there. 

We've grown to look at frugality in a completely different light. This is not austerity. It gives us the flexibility to decide how we want to live our lives. It gives us options to work part time, spend more time with our kids and travel for 2-3 months every year. 

It isn't easy. We struggle with the burning WANT (and keeping up with the Joneses) but we always come back around to the fact that those material wants do not get us to our life goals. We have what we need to be happy and comfortable. We want to spend our money and time elsewhere. 

 

So, in reference to the first photo:

No, I DON'T want to go shopping. I won't buy a new pair of jeans, because I already have one and I really don't need another (at least not until my current pair of jeans wear out.) How about coming over to our little house for a great cup of coffee and conversation instead?? 

Peace, 

Lisa 

 

Our Small House Experience

FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS, WE'VE BEEN LIVING IN A SMALL (BUT NOT TINY) HOUSE.

It's a duplex and measures about 800 sq. ft, not including the garage. 

This has led to many hours of evaluation and re-evaluation: about our possessions, about what our family of 4 truly needs to be happy, our future goals and what factors have contributed to our being able to live this way.

A few things about us/our thoughts: 

  • We're not terribly organized. This is NOT a contemporary DWELL magazine-worthy space and we still have too much stuff lying around.
  • This house isn't perfect, but it HAS exceeded our expectations in many ways.
  • While we have lived in houses that push the 2500 sq. ft. mark, this small house is more comfortable, more cozy, more HOME for us. 
  • We find that we are actually more calm here, even with the close quarters. We don't have to yell to get someone's attention across the house, yet there are spaces where we can escape if we are feeling too much togetherness.
  • This IS a live-work space with the adults in the home almost all the time. Add the littlest one for lunch and every afternoon, and the oldest kid here the rest of the time. We spend a lot of time in the house, together.
  • This house fits perfectly with our thrifty, minimalist goals: Less stuff, less expense, less time working, more time together, more time traveling. 

Here are the plans for our 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house in Córdoba, Argentina (click on the image to view larger):


There are some lifestyle factors that we feel make it easier to live in a small home, many of which are influenced heavily by living in Argentina.

WE HAVE FEWER THINGS:

  • No microwave (although one could be installed above the range).
  • No dishwasher. I know, I hate washing dishes too, but it's easier to keep up when we have few dishes to get dirty. 
  • Few pots/pans I currently have 4 but we use 3. One more thing to give away!
  • No counter coffee pot. We use an AeroPress Coffee Maker. It is absolutely worth the time and becomes a great morning routine. It was perfect for our 38-day road trip around Argentina last year and we bring it everywhere we travel, along with a travel mug and thermos for hot water. 
  • No clothes dryer. The washing machine is in kitchen. We have a portable drying rack that can sit at the end of the kitchen or outside on the patio.
  • No furnace. We have two natural gas wall heaters to warm the chilly winter mornings. Nothing more is needed. 
  • Outside storage is available for bikes, brooms, etc. Even a few extra boxes are sitting in the carport with no fear of freezing temps. Note to self: Get the boxes cleared out!
  • Local, fresh food. No bulk storage needed for refrigerated and/or pantry items.  We shop the local, neighborhood stores every few days to get the essentials, with a trip to a larger grocery store every few weeks. 
  • Few pieces of furniture. We don't have a living room. It's a play room. We don't watch TV in the traditional sense and we sit together at the kitchen table, so no living room set is needed. The girls share a full-size bed, so two beds are not needed. This also saves on extra bedding. We COULD use a shelving unit to get the toys off of the floor, but then again, maybe the girls own too many toys. ;) 
  • Few lights. Small space + lots of natural light = not many lightbulbs needed. We have installed half LED and half CFL for the lights we do use.  

WE LOVE THESE DETAILS OF OUR HOUSE:

  • Walk-out outdoor spaces and the back  patio has a "galleria" with a mesh cover to filter the light. We leave the back door open all the time, and with no screen door and a straight-walk out to the patio, it's a great transitional space. 
  • Built-in outdoor grill. A parrilla is standard in Argentine houses...and large garden/yard available for entertaining.
  • We're across the street from a large park.
  • Great natural light in all rooms (the only exception is the powder room). Both upstairs bathrooms and the center hall have clerestory windows. 
  • Substantial masonry construction. This is a very solid house. 
  • On-demand water heater hidden inside a kitchen cabinet. Never-ending hot water is amazing. Who needs a 50 gallon tank in a small home? A "giant" albatross. 
  • Two gas wall-heaters provide more than enough heat for the entire house.
  • All tile floors in the main living areas, bathrooms, stairs, garage and back patio. Easy maintenance and they get toasty warm by the heaters.
  • Operable shutters on all main floor and bedroom windows. The bedrooms can become pleasantly cave-like, night or day. 
  • Vaulted ceiling heights in bedrooms provide for extra tall closet storage and create a much more spacious feel in the small bedrooms. 

what I WOULD CHANGE:

As an interior designer, I look at every space with a critical eye, and our own space is no different. Besides changing most of the finishes to reflect our more contemporary aesthetic (hey, I can dream), there are a few plan changes that I would recommend: 

  • Widen the house by 2-4' to accommodate easier entrance into house if a car is in the garage (you enter through a gate into the garage, then enter the house). This would also create better head height in the stairwell.. we have to duck ever so slightly. But, hey, we're tall.
  • In colder climates, the house would need additional heating supply, possibly a utility room and mudroom and/or entry storage for cold-weather gear.  
  • The garage could easily be made into another room, or elongated to add a mudroom and utility room against the stairwell wall, which could also add space to the terrace off of the 3rd bedroom. But... then it wouldn't be such a small house anymore, would it?? (However, do we really need a car? We lived here four years without and feel we could do it again.)
  • If the house is built free-standing (not a duplex with walls on either side, as it is currently), additional windows could be added on the side walls, as well as bump-outs for stairwell and/or dining room.
  • Remove the utility sink from the kitchen because hey, counter space is at a premium and add a prep/utility sink to the side of the parrilla area outside for the grand asados we would surely have on the back patio.
  • Merge the two upstairs bathrooms into one larger bathroom. Both are on the small end of comfortable and I wouldn't recommend more square footage, unless you absolutely needed a larger kitchen as well (which is directly below).
  • At the very minimum, take out the bidets in the upstairs bathrooms. For us, it is not a cultural norm and they take up a huge amount of real estate in those tiny bathrooms. 
  • Change the wood-burning fireplace in main level to gas insert or more efficient heating stove for an auxiliary heat source.

WE FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE COULD LIVE (AND WORK) AS A FAMILY OF 4 IN A HOUSE THAT IS 1000 SF OR SMALLER NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE. 

I really love that after years of designing for size and luxury, I'm now designing for efficiency and extreme usability. "Mindful, minimal and efficient" is our personal goal and this little house fits right in. 

 

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"Clutter is The Junk Food of Your Home"

A link on Facebook caught my eye. Not the usual click-bait, it was this article. I was hooked instantly. It's a topic I find very interesting- Tidying- or rather sorting, getting rid of unneeded possessions, then simple organization solutions for the items that are left.

This is the book:

Turns out this book has been on the NYT best seller list. Who knew? (I'm living in something of a self-imposed media black-out here in the middle of Argentina, so this book was news to me.)

In our family's journey for health (spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc.) this clearing of our excess possessions fits right in.

"Consider clutter the junk food of your home"

I admit, I bought Marie Kondo's book for Kindle online a few minutes after reading the article and I am totally hooked.

The idea behind the book is to sort thorough your clutter in batches. Not a few items a day, not a category every month. Whole house, one category at a time, taking no more than 6 months to sort everything in your home. As recommended, I started with my clothes.

I don't have many clothes to begin with so this task should be easy, right? Well, yes and no. Turns out I've been keeping things I don't love (too big, too worn, the wrong color, the wrong fabric) just because I have nothing to replace them with. Not a good enough reason. You must evaluate every item in your wardrobe with a question of:

"Does this (item) spark joy in my life?"

In my experience, it's a pretty clear answer.

A few select items WILL be my shopping list after this, but there is no hurry. I will be selective. I have to make sure it will be perfect for me and the new items will spark joy in my life.

Here are all of my clothes (pictured above) before sorting. The two bins in front are workout clothes (left) and tank tops (right). The bin in the back is scarves and the bag is off-season clothes. It's currently early fall in Argentina.

I am happy to say that by evaluating my clothes using the KonMari Method described in the book, I was able to separate two full bags: one to donate and another to sell at a nearby consignment shop. That is in addition to two other bags I already had in the garage to donate.

I gave myself a little wiggle room (which the author would NOT approve of) and kept a "maybe" bag, and a bag with a few heavy winter sweaters.  This "maybe" bag contains items that I'll evaluate again in the coming days:

  • Items in need repair or alterations.
  • Practical items that don't yet have replacements (like a well-worn but too big fleece).
  • Other items I just have to think about if I really love. (If they're in the bag, though, chances are that I will be able to part with them. Just not today.)

I also sorted through clothes of Geneva's that she has outgrown and we are saving for her sister. I only kept the pieces that are special and in good condition, resulting in the removal of one more bag of clothes from the house.

My Sorting Results:

  • 2 bags of clothes out of my closet, resulting in much more streamlined shelves. I will go back and fold everything as the book recommends.
  • 1 bag of Geneva's old clothes.
  • I also inspired the Mr. to sort through his clothes and we have two even larger bags of clothing that have been removed from his closet.

Bag Count So Far Using the KonMari Method: 5

I honestly feel like a weight has lifted off of my shoulders...and this is only after sorting through clothes!

We have done massive possession purges before (2008 when leaving the USA and again in late 2010 leaving Uruguay) and while I am constantly shocked at how much we can easily accumulate, I embrace the physical and emotional freedom that comes with fewer possessions.

 My closet, after sorting and before folding

My closet, after sorting and before folding

 My Six-Hanger Closet

My Six-Hanger Closet

Clothes remaining in my wardrobe, pictured above (not including exercise gear):

  • 3 dresses, hanging on 2 hangers
  • 4 long pants, folded (including 1 jean)
  • 1 capri pants, folded
  • 2 outdoor jackets (one dressy, one sporty), dressy jacket hanging
  • 3 long skirts, folded
  • 2 skorts, folded
  • 1 suit (skirt/jacket) hanging
  • 2 lightweight blazer/jackets (one dressy, one casual), hanging
  • 1 cardigan sweater, folded
  • 2 sleeveless sweaters, folded
  • 3 blouses, 1 hanging, 2 folded
  • 6 tank tops (I like to layer!) in one purple bin

Next phase: My purses, shoes, foundations, hats, accessories and fitness gear. Then folding & organizing* all according to the plan.

*One great thing about this book is that the author does not recommend any special, high cost organizing tools. Nothing else to buy. Fold your clothes using the recommended method and put them in drawers when possible. Do NOT stack.

That's it and it's working brilliantly.

One more step on our way to living a more minimalist, streamlined and mobile lifestyle. Check!

**If you're interested in the book, please click on the link button above to buy through Amazon. If you buy through the link included here, you help support our blogging while not costing you any more.  

I love the kindle version of this book on Amazon because, hey, I don't want any more clutter. If you prefer traditional-book-in-hand, that's cool, just select that option when ordering. Whatever floats your boat :) 

Just remember, I would never (NEVER!) recommend anything that I have not used and love.

Peace and love,

Welcome to 2015!

Waiting patiently to open a gift on Christmas Eve 2014.
Waiting patiently to open a gift on Christmas Eve 2014.
 Woohoo!! The holidays are done. I can't say I am sad to see them go (see my last post about homesickness).

We did have a good time, though. Our family enjoyed a lovely, quiet Christmas at home and a more lively New Year's Eve celebrating with friends.  I am happy to now have some time without the bustle and stress of the holidays to enjoy the lazy days of summer (Christmas in the summer will always feel wrong for me, though!)

We're working on our yearly goals, which is aided by a fantastic new analog tool called the Passion Planner(Not an affiliate link. I just love it so much, I want to share with everyone!) and ridding our lives of extraneous stuff on our quest for minimalism and focusing on what really matters.

We have some surprises coming up, to be revealed in the next few months. Have to keep mum for now.

But, to no one's surprise but my own, Geneva will start second grade at the beginning of March and Franca in Salita de 3 (3-year-old) preschool.

Where is the time going? Too fast!! They are growing too fast!!

We are looking forward to the year to come but hope that it slows down, even just a bit. Personally, I will be doing my very best to savor every second and truly live this year to its full potential.

May 2015 be everything your heart desires.  Make it count!

Feliz Año Nuevo!! (Happy New Year!!) Besos a todos! (Kisses to everyone!)

Switching Gears, Changing Lanes: Our New Blog

20140221_135624-SMILE
20140221_135624-SMILE

The Light Bulb Above My Head:

A few weeks ago, during a solitary walk on a cloudless afternoon , I had a revelation (that's been happening a lot on my walks recently). With no music pumping into my ears, I was thinking of goals past and present, of our travel blog, of the information we put out (or not) about our experiences living abroad with our family.

Truth is, I'm not really excited about documenting Argentine life/experiences/information anymore. I am tired of writing about the pros and cons of certain places and the many reasons we chose to leave Uruguay (we get questions about Uruguay more than Argentina and we haven't lived there since 2010.)

I also don't want to write a travel guidebook about all the locations/attractions/foods/people/culture in Argentina.

Don't get me wrong, I love Argentina and love to help people find specific answers to fit their personal situations and goals for living abroad. I just don't want to write generic travel information that may or may not help anyone.

What Gets My Blood Pumping:

What I AM passionate about is our family's quest for health. I am not strictly speaking about physical health (although that contributes to it), but my list includes:

  • Mental Health (and General Sanity!)
  • Work/life Balance
  • Environmental Health
  • Minimalism - The quest for less stuff & simpler living
  • Lifestyle Design & Location Independence
  • My Adventures with Type 1 Diabetes
  • Healthy Balances with Kids
  • Cooking & Recipes
  • Physical Fitness
  • Travel and Packing How-To
... and how our journey towards healthy living is influenced by - and contributes to - our choice to live abroad.

The format and name of this blog will be changing to HealthyFamilyAbroad in the coming weeks, although we will reference previous articles and maintain our URMovingWhere articles within the archives. There will be a re-direct set up so you can still type use the URMovingWhere name and be sent to the new blog format.

**We're also looking into ways to monetize our blog and add revenue streams with the new format. All of this will be done with complete transparency and we will be adding a source of income tab to show how we are making our blogging experiences support our lifestyle, instead of just our life supporting our blogging, as has been the case these last 5 years. ;) 

We hope that you will continue to join us in our adventures as we explore and document our journey living as a Healthy Family Abroad! 

Thank you all for your support!

Un beso,

Lisa

Striving for Minimalism

Toddler G and all of our STUFF arriving in Montevideo Uruguay in March 2009
Toddler G and all of our STUFF arriving in Montevideo Uruguay in March 2009

We moved to South America 5 years ago this past March, with a 15-month-old baby, two Pugs, a collection of carry-ons plus 12 bags/boxes, a stroller, travel crib and car seat, all brought with us on the airplane. This was after we sorted and packed/sold/gave away nearly everything we owned. All the furniture in our 2000 sq. ft house in MN; sold. Clothes; donated. No shipping container for us. No sir. We've pared it down to the essentials.

Our whole life was in those 12 bags/boxes. Everything from clothes and toys to a desktop computer and two flatscreen monitors.

We liked to think that we were living a minimalist lifestyle when we brought said bags/boxes to our furnished rental in Montevideo, but we weren't. Not even close. We still had collections of clothes that we brought with us "just in case". We sill had (and have to this day) boxes and boxes in storage in my father-in-law's basement back in the USA. Boxes full of housewares and momentos, clothes and business paperwork. I shudder at the thought of those boxes, even though I have sorted, further purged and repacked said boxes every time we visit the USA.

Is this any better than paying for a storage unit somewhere? No.

Little F (along with Paloma the Pug) in the play area. Look at all the STUFF!
Little F (along with Paloma the Pug) in the play area. Look at all the STUFF!

We now have far too many toys and random THINGS that we've accumulated being in one house in Cordoba for over 3 years. Time to pare down again. We are sorting, cleaning, selling and giving away once again.

Less STUFF means less to worry about. Money saved by not purchasing extraneous things. Time saved not looking for things and not having to maintain 'collections' of things. More time for meaningful experiences. More time for the PEOPLE in your life.

My favorite video about STUFF is in the link below (warning: Carlin has a potty-mouth, but the message is powerful). Click if you dare: http://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac

Some of our favorite minimalist resources are:

Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/ (which planted the seed in our minds, years ago)

Becoming Minimalist http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

The Minimalist Mom http://www.theminimalistmom.com/