January Money Diet Day #21 – Less is the New More

JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Photo copyright: JENNIFER HOEY INTERIOR DESIGN

Many of you know that I’m a full-time, self employed writer. One of my favorite side jobs is writing articles for home design magazines. Studying the beautiful rooms created by talented designers always inspires me.

Let’s look at the lovely living room vignette above, designed by Jennifer Hoey Interior Design. I fell in love with Jennifer’s work in 2012, when I wrote about her for Western Art & Architecture magazine.

We see that the room above does not include a lot of stuff. There are no Tuscany-themed throw rugs or gyro snack bowls or Brookstone TV remote pillows. Jennifer moved the furniture away from the walls in this beautiful, serene space, and kept the emphasis on just a few well-chosen pieces.

Most of the top designers I talk to invest in clean-lined, classic furniture of good quality and scale appropriate for the size of the room. They accessorize sparingly.

Are we ready?

In ten short days we’ll be reaching the official end of the January Money Diet, and we’ll be re-entering the world of shopping malls and impulse buys.

Much like addicts in rehab, we need to start preparing now for how we will deal with the inevitable temptations.

Many of you expressed joy after undertaking Monday’s challenge to clear stuff out and give it away. Let’s join our hands and pledge to honor those happy feelings and not crowd our homes with More. Doesn’t it feel good to have Less?

When I am at Target and I’m tempted to buy, say, a Tuscany-themed throw rug, I need only to remember the serene, simple rooms I love. Our home is a happier place with more space — and less stuff.

How about you?

What is the one area in your home that you’d like to edit and clear, so it’s a place of order and calm? (For me, it’s the basement. No, it’s actually the garage. No, wait — it’s my office closet.)

Your challenge is to take one step toward that vision of Less, and organize one space — one drawer, or one shelf, or one square foot — in that too-full place. Take one step, and tell us about it in the Comments section.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. WELCOME to those of you just joining the January Money Diet, and feel free to jump right in with today’s challenge! You can also visit the main blog page and scroll down to read the previous posts.

P.P.S. I was so inspired by all of your comments from Monday’s post about taking unwanted items to a charity, I’m loading up another batch today! If you donate more this week, be sure to post a comment so it counts in the contest. The person who gives away the most stuff by midnight this Saturday will win an inspirational money book.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Challenge – Create a Calm Space

Reduce clutter during the January Money Diet

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

Welcome to Day 9 of the January Money Diet, a 31-day break from nonessential spending. If you’ve just joined us, jump right in. Today’s challenge is all about reducing clutter.

Clearing space is a gift we give ourselves.

When we create an open, clean space to live or work, we’re honoring ourselves by creating a pleasant place of calm.

Along with the inner peace that comes from working and living in an uncluttered space, organized living means we’ll spend less time looking for lost items and more time enjoying a visually pleasing, harmonious environment.

Some of you may remember when I cleaned out a cabinet that held vases. I reduced our vase collection by half, and now whenever I open the cabinet I feel good.

Empty spaces in a cabinet? Believe me, this was a whole new concept for me. But what used to be a jam-packed source of stress is a half-empty source of peace.

How about you? Would you like to create a little breathing room in your home or office?

This Weekend’s Challenge

In the coming days when you’re in the mood, spend at least 15 minutes decluttering one area. It can be a small or big project, depending on how much time you want to devote to it. You could simply straighten up your desk, get rid of unnecessary papers and clean your computer monitor until it sparkles. Or spend thirty minutes organizing the medicine cabinet.

You could clean out your refrigerator and wipe down the shelves. Or tidy your bedroom so it feels like an oasis of calm at the end of the day. Unclutter the coat closet. Tackle one wall of the garage. Spend the afternoon straightening up the basement. It’s up to you. Just organize one spot, and bask in the satisfaction of a nice, clear space.

You deserve it, my friends.

For inspiration, you might enjoy Unclutterer and Organized Home.

If you tidy up a space and like the result, we’d love to hear about your project in the Comments section.

Enjoy the weekend, and we’ll tackle a new challenge together on Monday.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:  Ron Brenner

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

5 Simple Ways To Better Manage Your Time Online

Organize your online time

Photo: Danijel Grabovac

For all the wonderful ways the internet has made our lives easier, most people would agree that its vast expanse of competing applications and expectations has created even more time management and communication challenges. While I’ll probably be wrestling with better time management forever, these are some tips and tricks that have worked for me:

1. Save it for later.

I often find websites and articles I want to explore further, but I don’t happen to have time at the moment. In the past I’d end up with a dozen windows open on my browser, but now I use Instapaper to save sites and pages for reading later. Once you download the application you’ll have a little “Read Later” button on your toolbar that you can simply click to save the page. Review the contents of your folder later, on any device, when it’s convenient for you.

2. Ruthlessly guard and cull incoming e-mails.

Use a spam filter to eliminate most of the junk mail, and check the file once a week to make sure you haven’t missed any legitimate e-mails. Unsubscribe to newsletters and promotions that no longer interest you. Don’t, however, click the “unsubscribe” button for e-mails you never signed up for; unscrupulous marketers will recognize an active e-mail address and use it again. Instead, stop unwanted senders by marking their e-mails as junk and blocking their e-mail addresses. Delete unnecessary e-mails right away so they don’t build up in your inbox. Here’s a challenge for today: Go through your inbox and see if you can find 5 incoming e-mails to stop receiving. Continue weeding out nonessential e-mails on a regular basis.

3. Stay focused on your priorities.

Have you ever had a day where it felt like all you accomplished was responding to others’ e-mails? An incoming e-mail can often cause us to stop working on our own priorities and get sidetracked into responding to someone else’s priorities. Turn off any sound or pop-up that alerts you to new e-mails. You may wish to set aside two times a day to review and answer e-mails—perhaps mid-morning and later in the afternoon. Keep your replies short and sweet. I also remind myself that sometimes it’s more efficient to simply pick up the telephone and have a quick conversation about a complex topic.

4. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Set up an e-mail address just for social media, newsletters, advertising and less-pressing matters. I like Google’s Gmail for this purpose, because the interface automatically sorts the incoming e-mails into “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions.” This is a great address to give those dear folks who like to send jokes and chain letters, too. Don’t share your primary e-mail address with companies that ask for it on a form unless you absolutely have to.

5. Mind your minutes.

I love Design Sponge, Houzz and David Lebovitz’s food blog, but if I’m not careful I can discover that I’ve whiled away too much time exploring dreamy kitchens and French recipes. To limit the time you spend on a particular website, try Minutes Please. It’s a simple application that lets you set a specific time allotment for surfing a site, and then gives you a friendly little pop-up window when you have one minute left.

How about you? Do you sometimes feel like the internet is a huge, sucking time magnet, or do you generally manage your online activities well? Have you learned any tricks you’d like to share? I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Hugs and have a happy weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Let’s Explore the Incredible Power of Fifteen Minutes

Write every day

Photo: Rui Fernandes

 

“I’d love to write a book someday, but right now I don’t have the time.”

I hear this often when I teach writing classes. One of my favorite exercises to do with beginning writers is a timed sprint. We set a timer for 15 minutes, and everyone writes as quickly and unconsciously as they can.

When the timer goes off, these writers are often astonished that their average word count comes in at about 400 words. Then we do the math:  if we write just 400 words a day for five days a week, we can write a 60,000-word draft of a novel in about seven months—and still have weekends off.

I’ve learned that doing big things in small chunks of time can be incredibly productive. With this in mind, how would you like to join me in an experiment this week? If you’re game, let’s commit to 15 minutes of one activity for the next six days. We’ll start Monday and end Saturday. The only requirement is that we state our intentions below and check in every day for six days after we complete our activity. By Saturday we’ll have devoted an hour and a half to something meaningful, and we can share our results.

Creating art at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Stephen A. Wolfe

Here are some ideas:

  • Organize
  • Meditate
  • Practice gratitude
  • Exercise
  • Create a scrapbook page
  • Pray
  • Write in a journal
  • Beautify a space
  • Learn foreign language words or phrases
  • Read to a child
  • Create art
  • Memorize a scripture
  • Write a letter
  • Take a walk
  • Reach out to a friend or loved one
  • Take photographs
  • Work in the garden
  • Write a story or begin your novel

If you’re “in,” leave a comment below about what you’ll do for 15 minutes a day this week. Then, just reply to your own comment each day you complete the activity.  You can just write “Done,” or tell us more about what you did, or how it’s going.

The Quinoa Quookbook

Just for fun, I’ll choose a random name from those of you who participate and give away a signed copy of The Quinoa Quookbook at week’s end.

Are you game? I’ll get the party started and leave the first comment.

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Do Something Nice Today and Enjoy a Better Tomorrow

Getting the coffee ready

Are you familiar with the FlyLady? Marla Cilley, a.k.a. The FlyLady, has a wonderful system for getting your house organized, and whenever I faithfully follow her program I reap such benefits. By getting in a routine and consistently focusing my attention on one area of our house for just a few minutes every day, our home becomes tidier, less cluttered and more enjoyable.

Perhaps one of the things I love best about the FlyLady’s approach is her gentle, feel-good encouragement. For instance, one of her very first baby steps is to get in the habit of cleaning and shining your sink before you go to bed at night. In her sweet way, she tells you that in the morning when you see that sparkling sink she wants you to feel a hug from her. It’s funny, but when I do take time to clean and polish my sink at night, it always makes me feel happy the next morning.

So recently, I’ve expanded that idea of a morning blessing. I always make the coffee before I go to bed at night (and may I just say right now:  God bless the person who invented the automatic coffee maker). Now I also set out my coffee cup, my homemade healthy sweetener and a spoon on a pretty French floral dish. It’s like a little gift that I give to myself to make the morning ritual nicer, and it always makes me feel happy.

I’ve been exploring other ways to spread some love the day before for a better tomorrow.  For example, sometimes I lay out my clothes, undies, jewelry and shoes for the next day which always helps me feel a step ahead somehow. Recently I had a meeting downtown, and the night before I printed out the directions in a nice large font and taped the paper to the door so that I wouldn’t have to scramble and figure out where I was going at the last minute. I arrived at the meeting twenty minutes early, relaxed, and even found a great parking place!

How about you? Can you do something today to bless yourself tomorrow? I welcome your thoughts and comments, and hope you have a happy Friday, an even better Saturday and a really wonderful weekend.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Got Vases? A Mini Decluttering Challenge

Jelly Jar Daisies at Happy Simple Living blog

I love fresh flowers on the table here at the urban homestead, and more often than not I’ll just pick a few posies and loosely arrange them in a jelly jar to brighten the table.

So the other day as I was trying to find something in the jam-packed laundry room cabinet, I suddenly saw my overflowing vase collection with new, critical eyes. Do we really need quite so many containers to hold flowers, I wondered?

Crowded cabinet at Happy Simple Living blog

To face the question truthfully I removed every vase from the depths of the cabinet and arranged them on the kitchen table, where I was somewhat astonished to discover 25 vessels.

Vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

Faced with the vases, I was also confronted with the two opposing sides of my domestic personality. The happy simple living side of me is, most of the time, truly content to whittle down possessions, enjoy orderly spaces and keep just a few things that I really love.

But the Martha Stewart side of me loves having many, many choices of domestic goods in every color, size and shape. 25 vases? Sure, in case I want to get creative and make pretty arrangements: a red vase for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, a tiny bud vase for little flowers, a pale green vase for January days that need a dash of spring color, a large vase for those times when men arrive bearing unexpected bouquets (hmm, why is that one so dusty?), a curvy bulb vase in case I want to force hyacinth bulbs (even though I haven’t been thusly motivated in ten years), and so on, and so on….

Vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

Twenty-five vases is too many, though, so I steeled myself and ignored my inner Martha. To thin the collection, I eliminated the duplicates, waved goodbye to the plain cheapies, and let go of the ones I never use. (I kept one large model for those unexpected bouquets, because hey, a girl’s got to be prepared.)

To some minimalists this might not seem extraordinary, but I did get rid of almost half of the collection. Thirteen vases made the final cut:

Small vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

It only took fifteen minutes to send a dozen vases to the curb, which is a figure of speech because I actually drove to the box to the ARC drop-off center and handed it over immediately before the clever little voice of She-Who-Likes-To-Have-Infinite-Vase-Choices could dissuade my resolve.

The best part of all? When I put the remaining vases away, our laundry room cabinet had room—glorious, spacious breathing room.

Cleaner cabinet at Happy Simple Living blog

Vases, like candles and baskets, seem to multiply faster than rabbits here at the urban homestead, until they threaten to take over an entire room.

How about you? Could your vase collection use a little weeding out? Would you like to tackle the task this week, perhaps? If you do, be sure to let us know what you keep and how many vases you let go.

Sending you big, overflowing bouquets of happy simple living vibes today,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Have you entered to win a free hardback copy of the new book Good Clean Food?

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 30 of the January Money Diet – Declutter One Place

Home Office at Happy Simple Living

By PotteryBarn.com

Organizing has many benefits. Along with the inner peace that comes from working and living in a calm space, organized living means less time looking for lost items and a visually pleasing, harmonious environment.

Clearing space is a gift we give ourselves.

Homework assignment #30: Today’s challenge is to spend at least 15 minutes decluttering one area. It can be a small or big project, depending on how much time you want to devote to it. You could simply straighten up your desk, get rid of unnecessary papers and clean your computer monitor until it sparkles. Or spend thirty minutes organizing the medicine cabinet. You could clean out your refrigerator and wipe down the shelves.  Unclutter the coat closet. Tackle one wall of the garage. Spend the afternoon straightening up the basement. It’s up to you. Just organize a space, and bask in the rewards.

For inspiration, you might enjoy these websites — with tons of tips and information:

Unclutterer

Organized Home

Get Organized

Creative Organizing

If you clear a space and like the result, be sure to let us know about it!

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. Even though January is winding down, you can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies and a copy of my cookbook, 101 Things To Do With Bacon. This Friday morning, February 1, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month (the cut-off is midnight MST tomorrow, Jan. 31) and that lucky person will win the gift basket. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by this month to share your ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 28 of the January Money Diet – Reduce Food Waste

“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” ~Calvin Trillin

It just kills me to discard spoiled food that we didn’t eat. One of my goals this year is to make better use of leftovers. The whole concept of “zero waste” appeals to me on so many levels, and utilizing food efficiently is so important.

If you feel the same way, you might enjoy the Leftover Chef site where you can input whatever strange ingredients are lurking in your refrigerator for recipe ideas. Enter ‘turkey, ‘cranberries,’ and ‘onions,’ for instance, and you’ll find an appealing recipe for Turkey Cutlets with Cranberry – Pear Relish.

Do you have stale crackers and chips lurking in the pantry? Refresh them by spreading them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and baking at 300 degrees F for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool and then seal in an airtight container.

What about those stray veggies in the vegetable crisper? Use them in salads or on pizza, or freeze them for your next batch of soup.

Leftover tortillas can be used to make homemade tortilla chips, like this healthy baked version from Savory Sweet Life.

Homework assignment #28: What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? We’d love to hear your ideas!

P.S. In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 7 of the January Money Diet – Give Something a Little TLC

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Bicycle maintenance at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Joe Photo

“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.” ~ Emily Dickinson

We honor our possessions when we take good care of them. A quiet January is the perfect time to tackle a few maintenance tasks. Perhaps your garden tools could use a good cleaning and sharpening, or maybe it’s time to defrag your computer’s hard drive and update all the programs. Or maybe your bike could use a good tune-up, or you feel like washing the windows or polishing the furniture.

I’m going to sharpen the knives and rub a tiny bit of vegetable oil into the wood handles of our cooking utensils, so they don’t dry out. I’m going to hand-wash a couple of cashmere sweaters, and if I get super-motivated I might try that intimidating “clean” feature on the oven.

Many of you left happy comments on Day #5’s post, when we repaired something that was broken. I felt happy, too, and I bet you’ll experience similar feelings with this task. It’s strangely satisfying to stop buying more, and instead turn our attentions to the nice things that already surround us.

Homework assignment #7: Is there something in your immediate vicinity that could benefit from some maintenance or “spit and polish,” as my dad used to say? Give one of your honored possessions a little care and attention — and be sure to let us know what you do.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.