Friday, May 2, 2014

No One Asks for Less

As I watched one of the few tv shows I still follow, this Verizon commercial played a few times:

And I could only think to myself, "Why the heck did I buy into this for so long?!"

The commercial isn't wrong, most people DO want more. People want more shoes, more cookies, more time, more friends, more clothes, more vacation, more food...more happiness.

But are we looking for more in the wrong places?

Now that I have stopped (mostly) buying things, I have realized how much the want for more affected my life before a few months ago. I always wanted the newest stuff because like many others, I thought it would make me happier.

Turns out, stuff doesn't make me happier. Spending time with my family and friends, reading, playing games, working out and feeling good, cooking, writing, playing guitar, and doing nice things for others makes me happier.

Do you still crave more? How do we stop craving more?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Story of Stuff

This video, Story of Stuff, sold me (haha, punny) on not purchasing new items.

It was both sad and frustrating to me and ultimately, made me realize that I would prefer to buy things used, borrow things from friends, or just be content with what I have. The one exception to this rule, moving forward, is that I will still probably buy new clothes for myself for work but I will probably make sure I keep an eye on sustainability, fairness for workers, and materials used.

The amount of waste we used to produce as just two people was staggering. Since we stopped buying things and trying to recycle as much as possible, I have noticed that we put out a good amount of recycling and one (not even full) trash bag each week. When you don't buy that much stuff, there isn't that much to throw out!

We do throw out a lot of food waste like peelings and such. Hopefully, we can start composting soon so we can also eliminate most of this waste from our garbage.

It blew my mind to watch the Story of Stuff and to see how much we consume without thinking.

What do you think?!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Forest Feast - Minimalist Cookbook Love

Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast is not a self-proclaimed minimalist (that I know of!) but I would argue that her beautiful new cookbook could fit in perfectly on any vegetarian minimalist's shelf. It's worth buying, even if you're not the kind of person who buys many things.

Here's a little info about Erin from her About section of her lovely website:

For many years I worked as a food photographer in New York City, shooting for cookbooks, magazines, top chefs and restaurants, The New York Times Dining section, and The James Beard Foundation. I also have an MFA in photography from SVA and I taught photography to college students at The Fashion Institute of Technology for 4 years. But in the summer of 2011, my husband Jonathan’s new job prompted a move to Northern California (just south of San Francisco) where we found a lovely cabin in the woods. Inspired by local, seasonal ingredients in my weekly CSA box, I create “photographic recipe illustrations” that are mostly vegetarian and laid out visually. I hope to inspire healthy recipe ideas anyone can make- dishes that are easy enough after a long day at work, yet impressive enough for a party. For more info on me, check out this interview.

I stumbled across Erin's blog a while ago because I know her brother-in-law but then I stayed as a loyal reader for the past year and a half because her work is just magnificent. A talented photographer, artist, and chef, Erin creates vegetarian recipes from local farmers markets and CSA boxes. Then, she takes lovely pictures of everything and has a simple, beautiful, and easy-to-follow recipe.

I've cooked many recipes from her blog including Guacamole Deviled Eggs, Yam and Feta Stuffed Squash Blossoms (OMG yum), and Red Roasted Carrots. As promised, each recipe is easy, healthy, and delicious for both dinner when it's just us or when we have company.

Friday night, we made the Potato and Green Bean Salad, Yam and Feta Stuffed Squash Blossoms (with goat cheese instead of feta) AND the Guacamole Deviled Eggs. It was a Forest Feast Shabbat! And it was awesome.
Seriously, a work of art!!

If you love to cook but sometimes feel like minimalism and cooking do not love one another, check out Erin's scrumptious cookbook. I promise you will NOT be disappointed.

Erin did not ask me to write this post nor did I receive any compensation or a free cookbook for doing so. I simply love her work and want to share it with the world. Enjoy!

*Photos by Erin Gleeson for The Forest Feast*

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What now?! Minimalism and Happiness

Since beginning my minimalist journey, I have become happier with my physical possessions and spending habits. I have not spent nearly as much on things I do not need and my physical possessions are weighing less on me (metaphorically) as they take us less room (literally).

I decided to read Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project when I realized that I had a problem some other new minimalists also have: I didn't know how to spend my newly reclaimed time.

I don't want to watch tv or do passive things. I read a fair amount, for school and for pleasure. I play guitar sometimes and that's always nice. But when it came to my day to day activities, I was feeling a little aimless. I was grasping in the dark! I could write for a little while. Maybe I'll do a little homework. I want to work out but I wasn't being consistent.

I always stick to things better when I have two things in place: 1 - a plan, 2 - accountability.

The Happiness Project is Rubin's account of her one year project to become happier by instilling new habits. I have read some really nasty reviews of the book before but I read the blurb about it again and it felt like it could help me in exactly what I was looking for (creating a plan and accountability).

I like that Rubin uses Ben Franklin's idea of a "resolutions chart" each day. She marks off with a check (yay, I did it!) or an X (try again tomorrow) whether or not she sticks to one of 3-5 specific resolutions for a whole month. She did different ones for 12 months and the idea is that once your really stick to a resolution for a month, it becomes habit or you realize that you need to change the resolution. I dig it.

The other thing that I really like from the book is reading about different ways to change your mindset when it comes to happiness in life. Don't love washing dishes? Try to create more "attitude of gratitude" while washing dishes. Think to yourself, "Wow, I am so lucky that I can afford hot water, beautiful dishes, and delicious food that I need to clean off of those dishes." She cites lots of studies about happiness that tell us that the way you think about the things you choose to do affects the way you feel about those things. I buy it and I'm going to try it more.

Minimalism CAN bring happiness into our lives but only in that it frees up our time and money to really pursue the things we want to pursue. I could sell and give away most of my stuff and barely ever buy things but never engage in the things I want to engage and minimalism because worthless. Then, I'm just stuff-less and wealthier than I would have been otherwise.

I have succeeded in step 1 of minimalism by closely scrutinizing my possessions and spending habits (both time and money). I'm looking forward to taking the leap to step 2 in which I figure out how I want to really spend my time and money and then actually DO those things!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Links I Love - Meditation / Hitbod'dut

In Mussar, hitbod'dut (literally aloneness or seclusion) is the practice of sitting alone in silence for an amount of time (maybe 10 or 15 minutes). Hitbod'dut gives you the opportunity to reflect and just "turn off" your brain for a little while. Often, your thoughts will turn to things you have to do, bills you have to pay, or errands that need to run but eventually (and definitely with some practice) you may begin to experience a state of calm and serenity.

Hitbod'dut, or meditation, can help us feel refreshed and ready to greet the rest of the day with gusto. Sitting for a few minutes can also help us calm our mind and leave us capable of focusing on whatever task is next.

Here are some amazing links to help you get started with some easy meditation:

Calm - I feel like I'm in a spa when I use this website. There's also an app for your phone so you can meditate on the go. (Thanks to Tammy at Rowdy Kittens for this awesome link.)

Meditation for Beginners at Zen Habits - Leo Babauta is a wonderful blogger and minimalist. His website was one of the firsts I read to get more into minimalism.

More Meditation, More Gratitude, Better Living - This is a lovely post from Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist. Joshua's story was mainly the one that helped me kick off my own minimalist journey.

Meditation for Real People - Courtney Carver at Be More With Less is also one of my favorite minimalist bloggers.

Do you meditate? If so, do you have any favorite posts that started you off or any favorite apps or other things that help you keep up your practice?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Whole Food Plant Based on a (Minimalist) Budget

The New Rules
Every month, we spend a higher majority of money on food than any other expense. Not because we NEED to but because we like to eat out and we are sometimes very lazy (or tired) during the week.

When we took a much closer look at our spending habits, food was the easiest and hardest to drastically change. We made some new rules which we have been following for over a month now:

- Eat one meal out together each week
- Go to Starbucks/other coffee spot once a week
- Buy lunch for ourselves once a week
- Shop at the Hollywood Farmers Market every Sunday, buy anything we can't get there at Whole Foods or Trader Joes

These four rules have helped us cut our spending on food by almost HALF last month! Spending cash at the farmers market also makes us think more about how much we're spending on items since we only bring about $40 or $50 each visit. 

We knew we were being a little reckless with our food spending but we were too lazy to change our ways. Then, I saw how much I owe the government in student loans and believe me, that was enough to make me want to eat cheap ramen for the next year (not really, that would be gross).

The Weekly Haul
The husband is on a spring break trip this week so this is all just for me. I am going out with friends tonight but other than that, I plan on eating at home and bringing lunch all week. I spent $49 (including $3 for parking) on groceries. This includes almond milk which will last me a few weeks and eggs which will definitely not be gone by next weekend. Normally, we spend about $70-80 per week for two of us.

The Haul
 I try to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet (pretty much vegan except that I eat eggs at home from Lily's Eggs, pictured above, or Vital Farms which is certified humane).
It would have been a little cheaper to buy the rice from TJ's or Whole Foods bulk bin but instead, I supported a local farmer at the market. 
 The lettuce was such an amazing deal and last week, we bought four and one of them has made it until today and is still fresh and crisp!
I normally also buy tangerines or some kind of citrus but decided to buy extra cucumbers to snack on instead this week. I consumer tomatoes and cucumbers at an alarming rate anyway, so we'll see how long they last.
Japanese cucumbers: AMAZING! I went with four "aesthetically defective" avocados at $1 each because they still taste amazing and who doesn't love the underdog? Those two bunches of kale were only $3 and the four heads of lettuce were $5! That's all my greens for the week.
I bought one basket of these tomatoes. Should have bought two, they are so delicious.

The Menu
I like to take Matt Frazier's advice from No Meat Athlete and cook as simply as possibly during the week. The menu this week will consist of:
- Brown rice, kale, and black beans (from a previous farmers market trip) with some kind of homemade tahini sauce
- My favorite meal in one bowl: brown rice, tomato, cucumber, onion (the tops of the ones pictures), avocado, and soy sauce. It's like veggie sushi in a bowl!
- Giant salad with Frank's sauced tofu
- Tofu scramble with tomatoes, onions, and red pepper
- Garlic stir fry with broccoli, kale, red pepper, onions, and beans over brown rice
- 2 eggs, cucumber tomato salad, and a yummy smoothy (fresh banana, frozen strawberries, some greens, ground flax and almond milk)

We both value supporting local farmers and our awesome Hollywood Farmers Market, so this weekly trip has been great. Plus, we get an hour and a half together on Sunday morning when we are not rushing or thinking about other things and we share the load (literally) of shopping!

What's your method for keeping your food budget in check? Any awesome tips and tricks?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why I'm Learning to Write

In order to finish my graduate program and magically be ordained a rabbi next year, I need to complete a traditional thesis or capstone project.

I chose to write a capstone project and will embark on a journey to learn about ethics, Judaism, and food in order to write an ethical cookbook. The finished project should be about 80 written pages and I am so scared about writing those 80 pages.

Why "learn" to write?

Writing is an important medium we have at our disposal to share ideas with one another. Here I am, blogging away...showing you the thoughts that swirl around in my brain only to be plucked to the top, scooped out and splashed back onto the page in letters and sentences. Pretty cool, right!? I get to show you what's going on inside my head just through this act of writing.

In order to be most successful at completing my capstone and writing worthwhile material here and in other places, I'm embarking on a journey to really learn to write.

I plan to start with Chuck Wendig's ebook 250 Things You Should Know About Writing and basically ravaging any wonderful writing books and blogs I can get my hands on.

Words matter and I want all of the words I send out into the world to make an impact. This, in itself, feels like a very minimalist idea and I'm stoked to begin.

What books or blogs have you read that inspire you to be a better writer?

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Highest Compliment

We had a friend come over yesterday who was last here a few months ago. She came in, looked around for a minute and then said, "Your place looks so clean! It looks great!" I was over the moon!

The fact is that our apartment DOES look cleaner and great. Since getting rid of clutter out front and minimizing the amount of things that "live" in the area, the front part of the house is a cinch to clean up. A piece of mail here, a coat into the closet there...viola! It's so nice!

Not to mention it makes vacuuming easier...even though neither of us fight over being able to vaccum.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paring Down - The Monster Email Inbox

One of my greatest sources of stress recently was my HUGE inbox with overwhelming numbers of emails. I had over 15,000 saved emails in two main accounts!! 15,000!!!

It took a few days and a bit of stress to be clicking constantly on "Select All" and "Delete" but I finally got rid of almost ALL of those emails. BUH BYE!

Here are a few tips I discovered when paring down my own email inbox:

1. Don't become overwhelmed. If you're like me and had 8,000 emails in an inbox, chances are that you don't need most of them. Think about emails that you may want/need to keep before starting and then like other things, be ruthless!

2. Important things will come back to you. A friend gave me this tip. Ongoing conversations in Gmail will ALL come back to you when the other person replies. So, if you don't need those previous emails right now, delete it and the whole thread will show up again when they reply.

3. It's all about upkeep! To keep my inboxes clean after the big purge, I have to continually get rid of things each day so the inbox doesn't get cluttered again. It happens easily with email but if you try hard to maintain a clean inbox, it feels so nice to have less emails floating around.

4. It seems silly but you'll feel so much better when you're done. A clean inbox is a happy inbox? I don't know why, but once I got rid of all those unwanted emails, my brain felt less cluttered and I felt like I had accomplished a decluttering action. It felt great!

Anyone else done a big purge before!? Any tips I missed here?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Letting Go - The Hope Chest

As I continue down the path towards minimalism, I find that for me, letting go of bigger items remains difficult.

My husband gave me a hope chest in 2004 or 2005. It is from Ikea so we're not talking expensive or antique but I had always wanted a hope chest and it was a very thoughtful gift. He built it in my childhood bedroom and I came home to discover my lovely Chanukah gift waiting for me.

In our new apartment, the hope chest never found its own spot. It has been full of our board games and blankets, what it normally houses, but has sat dustily and awkwardly in a corner since May. Since we are trying to minimize the things simply taking up space in our home, I suggested we sell the hope chest.

My husband had no problem with my letting go of his gift but I had a hard time letting go of its sentimental value. Now that we have sold it on Craigslist and that spot sits empty, I have learned (again, just like with my briefcase) that having one less possession leaves more room for other things to fill that space in which to live.

And again, I find comfort in knowing that the hope chest will be used in its new residence.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Letting Go - the Case of the Briefcase

When I went vegetarian, I began to feel conflicted about using my beautiful leather briefcase I purchased during my first year of working.  I loved that briefcase...or at least I thought I did.
The case...and a Maggie in the background.
Turns out, I was totally okay letting it go. I felt pretty being vegetarian (and later vegan) and carrying around a big briefcase made of animal. I hemmed and hawed for almost two months about whether I should sell it or keep it. Eventually, I sold the briefcase to my husband's friend and for Chanukah, I asked for a vegan messenger bag to use for school.

I love my new bag because I feel good carrying a bag made without animal products. AND, it's handmade by a small company. I love that my husband's friend is using my briefcase and that it will hopefully be loved for many years to come. This was the first possession of mine that I sold and felt I had some sentimental connection to. Ultimately, I barely think about it and when I do, I'm just happy to have let it go to make room for other things in my life.

Sentimental items or items that we think we "love" can be hard to give up but after we let it go, it most likely will turn out that you do not even think about it that often. And if you do, you can ALWAYS save up and buy another one. (But you shouldn' should use what you have and be all minimalist about it.)

Some awesome links on giving up sentimental items...
Letting Go of Sentimental Items from The Minimalists (a new favorite!)
Letting Go of Possessions from Zen Habits (Check out Leo's "Uncopyright," he's so awesome.)

In the Beginning

(See what I did there?! If you don't get it yet...pick up a Tanakh or Old Testament. Get it now?! Hehehehe. It's funny because I'm in rabbinical school.)

In the beginning...of 2014...I stumbled upon blogs documenting peoples' lives or journeys as minimalists.  PFttt, I thought, minimalism? That's not for me. I collect things. I love things. I have lots of them and do not really plan on ever getting rid of anything I don't need to get rid of.

I got an itch to ditch all of my superfluous items. I started with clothes because I had so many extras that it was a simple place to clear things out. I attacked the front room and got rid of anything that wasn't being used. I slowly started to give away things that just sat around unused.

When I began looking through all my possessions, I quickly realized that I own much more than I need. That much was easy to see right away. What I did not know right away was that once I started to pare down my possessions, I would begin to feel freer and excited to get rid of even more superfluous stuff.

My journey towards living a more minimalist lifestyle is ongoing. Sometimes, it still feels difficult to part with an item but then I remember that if I doubt the item's use in my life, I most likely really don't need it anyway.

And the best part about all of it? If I no longer have it just sitting around, someone else has the opportunity to get real pleasure from it.