Decreasing to Downsize

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As a minimalist, I’m always evaluating my collection of things. Among that collection are my knitting needles. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to give them up, but for now, the decision is to keep them. Here are four reasons why:

Knitting…

1. Is good for the body and soul

Knitting is known to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety; to protect the brain from aging; and to act as meditation. If I just need to play with some sticks and string to stay healthy for life, I’m willing to make space for the equipment.

2. Connects me to the past

My grandmother taught me to knit, and it’s something we still enjoy together. When the day comes that she is no longer a physical part of my life, I will find comfort in the knowledge that I’m carrying on her culture.

3. Helps me want less

Spending months (and a lot of money) on a big project tends to put me off spending and accumulating stuff. In its own way, knitting more helps me buy—and want—less.

4. Brings others joy

When I give, I like to give thoughtfully, which means making many gifts by hand. For me, there’s nothing more gratifying than watching someone’s eyes light up (especially a young someone) when s/he receive one of my wares.

How about you, readers? What do you make room for and why?

From the Inside Out

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When I think about minimalism, it usually involves my space, but I’m seeing that my practice needs to go deeper than that. So I’m working from the inside out in an effort to clean up both my body and soul.

 

You Are What You Eat

I’ve always felt that I had a pretty healthy diet. We make almost everything we eat from scratch, and I’m blessed with good genes, so I’ve never wondered if what I was doing was the best I could be doing.

But I’ve been struggling with my health all year, and I’m not willing to live with it anymore. I’ve criticized others who subscribe to fad diets and diagnose themselves as dairy/gluten-intolerant, but after feeling how I’ve felt and seeing as many docs as I have lately, I can understand the appeal.

So I’m eating a cleaner diet these days. It’s a process (I’ll admit I ate a cookie with my kale and quinoa this morning) but I’m trying, and I feel good. I feel energized. And for the first time in months, I feel hopeful.

 

Bend and Be Happy

I’m also returning to what has long been a pretty haphazard yoga practice. Inspired by my strong and supple sister, I’m working to join my body, mind, and spirit twice a day. Again, it’s early in the process, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel a little lighter, a little stronger, and a little saner each day.

How about you readers, what do you do to treat your body with intention?

Letting Go of the Words

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Downtown DenverI’ve thought and written a lot about minimalism, but I only just started to think about how minimalism could impact my writing. I’ve always been fond of words, which I never considered a liability—at least not until now.

As a student I prided myself on exceeding assigned page counts, in spite of gentle discouragement from my professors. When I landed my job as a writer, I acknowledged the fact that writing good web copy meant sacrificing some words, but I never embraced the idea.

It’s taken almost two years, but I’m starting to understand that good writing counts for nothing if it can’t satisfy its audience. As I was reading Letting Go of the Words and preparing for Academic Impressions’ “Writing Right for the Web” workshop in Denver last month, I started to see things clearly. Maybe it was being inundated with web-writing theories or spending time with non-writers who got it, but I accepted that beauty for its own sake gains you nothing in writing.

It doesn’t matter if you populate a site with an eloquent assemblage of words if no one reads it. It doesn’t matter if your copy is Pulitzer-worthy if it isn’t actionable. What makes writing good, on the web and arguably elsewhere, is its ability to engage audiences and allow them to accomplish something, be it a desired goal or a new insight into the human experience. In writing, form can’t succeed without function. The two must exist in harmony.

So I have a new mission: to find art in economy. To put the readers’ needs ahead of my ego. To learn to use the right words, not the prettiest, and to use as few as possible. Only then will I be a good writer.

What’s a Minimalist to Do?

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As you all know, I’m on a journey towards becoming a more devout minimalist. The area in which I struggle the most has to do with possessions; Pete and I have a lot of stuff. I think our fear is that if we don’t surround ourselves with things, we’ll have nothing to do. I was listing minimalist hobbies the other day, though, and I was surprised by how many I could name—most of which require no “stuff” at all. Here’s a list of my favorite minimalist hobbies.

My Minimalist Hobbies

1. Writing—Even though I write for a living, it seems I’ve always got room in my head for a few more words…

Ray Library

2. Reading—We’ve got an extensive collection of books, and we live next door to a library, so we’re never short on reading material.

3. Walking/Running—I love walking around town or out by the river. Even in a small community, I still see things that surprise me on a daily basis.

Winter wonderland

4. Practicing yoga—There’s nothing better for clearing your head…

5. Going to the movies—I love going to see movies in our little hometown theater. Its art-deco aesthetic makes me feel like I’m part of a larger tradition, like I’m doing something really special every time I walk through the doors.

Pete and I loved this theater when we lived in Saint Paul.

Pete and I loved this theater when we lived in Saint Paul.

While this list is just the beginning, I know there are a lot more minimalist hobbies I can look forward to enjoying in the future. What are some of yours?

Lessons Learned in Preschool

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"Flower" by BF, age 2

“Flower” by BF, age 2

It’s been six months since I walked away from an eight-year career in the field of early childhood education. For a number of reasons, it was time for me to make this change, yet I will always look back on that time with much fondness; my former students certainly do and will continue to occupy a very real place in my heart. In my short career I learned an incredible amount about people (both young and old) as well as myself, and those lessons will remain with me for years to come.

In honor of my eight years as an early childhood educator, here are eight things I learned while teaching preschool: lessons we can all take to heart, no matter what we do.

1. When in doubt, dance it out—An afternoon dance party never fails to relieve tension or put a smile on your face. Children are allowed to drop everything in the middle of the day to shake their booties; why can’t grown-ups?

2. Use your manners always and everywhere—I practiced better manners when I was surrounded by toddlers than I do now working with adults. It’s a perplexing digression.

3. Societies may come and go, cities may crumble, nations may fall, but humans will always gather to make and break bread—Bread is universal, and sharing it with others brings us in touch with something larger than ourselves. Bake and share it often.

4. Everyone operates most sensibly when sufficiently rested—A break in the middle of the day allows children to reset themselves and approach their afternoon with a new sense of intensity and intention. Do you feel that way when you work through lunch?

5. A place for everything, and everything in its place—Contrary to popular belief, the early childhood classroom is never cluttered, at least not for long. Everything in it has a place, and when those things are restored to their respective homes, everyone enjoys a sense of security. Temporary chaos allows for creation and exploration; when this chaos has an overarching structure, we feel safe and at ease in our world. Do all of your things have a home? How do you feel when your space is in disarray?

6. Delight in simple pleasures—Trust me when I tell you that no achievement is too small to celebrate. Some of my proudest moments have resulted from the smallest of successes.

7. We all have our days—We cannot always be at our best, and some days we just cannot get it together. Fortunately, you will have another chance tomorrow. Try your best today, and know that you can always try again.

8. Love exists all around us—If ever you lost faith in our kind, if ever you fear what this country will become, if ever you are certain that things can be no worse, look no further than the face of someone small. There is good all around us.

 

To the teachers, children, parents, and other friends I made along the way, you’ll always be in my heart.

Evolution of the Capsule Closet

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It’s been about nine months since I began my capsule closet experiment, which made me think an update might be in order.

This was the first iteration of my capsule closet in April 2012.

This was the first iteration of my capsule closet in April 2012.

I started the project in April with 22 items. I did a thorough purge of my closet, leaving only my best pieces. I selected a base color, i.e. brown, that I thought was well-suited to my taste and coloring and filled in any missing pieces with consignment store finds. All in all, it was an admirable start.

I got a little more serious about my capsule closet in September. I purged more items, purchased some new pieces for my new job, and started to think about whether or not I could really make this work. I also inadvertently began adding a few black items to my closet, breaking the base-neutral rule…

Dresses from the second iteration of my capsule closet.

Dresses from the second iteration of my capsule closet.

It’s February now, which means we just made it through a very cold snap in Minnesota. Although I managed to stay decently warm, I think I should plan to add a few heavier items to my winter closet next year. Although I had originally planned to have two all-encompassing wardrobes (spring/summer and fall/winter), I think I may fare better with three (winter, spring/fall, and summer). For now, I’ll be investing in a few more pieces and adjusting as necessary.

I made a number of other discoveries that might also inspire significant changes in my wardrobe plans. As I looked for new pieces in shades of brown, I realized that finding everything I wanted was more difficult than I anticipated. I also learned that quality pieces really do work better, since less well-made clothing really can’t hold up to the wear necessitated by this lifestyle choice. C’est la vie…

The most interesting thing I learned while trying to live with a capsule closet was that even with far fewer pieces in my closet, I still ended up wearing the same 5-7 outfits. I’m hoping to put together ensembles with a little more variety in the coming months.

Indie is always eager to help with laundry.

Indie is always eager to help with closet-purging.

It’s been a worthwhile adventure, though, and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. Even after only nine months, I can’t imagine going back to a closet filled with clothes. Although it’s still a work in progress, I know I’m on my way to having the closet of my dreams—one that will allow my to live more simply and elegantly.

Celebrating Buy Nothing Christmas

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Deck the HallsFor the seventh consecutive year, I made an effort to again observe Buy Nothing Christmas. This Canadian initiative aims to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged. The effort is run by volunteers and is intended to help participants find meaningful ways of marking the holiday.

Now, I love almost everything I have come to associate with the holiday season: long car rides across the prairie, quiet time with family and friends, glowing lights at Christmas mass, and—yes—exchanging gifts. The only thing I don’t like about the holidays is feeling socially obligated to buy expensive things in order to give the season a sense of meaning. Buy Nothing Christmas is a call to action for people like me. Those who choose to take part are still encouraged to give, and even buy, gifts; they are simply asked to buy fewer of them, or to make them, or to consider giving gifts of time and charity. It’s not a rejection of Christmas traditions, but an attempt to embrace them.

Autumn leaf hatI began celebrating Buy Nothing Christmas out of economic necessity as a college freshman. This was the year in which I first learned to knit, which means that a lot of my family members received garter stitch scarves and stocking caps as well as slapdash scrapbooks (I’m really not being modest; it’s not my forte) and hemp bracelets. I still make quite a few gifts in addition to scouring holiday art and library book sales. And yes, I admit, that I re-purpose unused items from my home. Although I have a little more money now than I did when I started this experiment, my desire to buy more things hasn’t increased much. I’ve found a way to lend more meaning to my holiday gift giving while feeling useful and socially responsible. It may not be for everyone, but it sure works for me.

Santa's HelperThis year I was even able to get my husband involved. In years past, he worked at a big box book store and had a hard time turning down his employee discount during the month of December. He was able to get excited about a homemade gift-giving experiment this time around, though, and he’s pretty pleased with the results. Peter made infused vodka for the first time last month, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a tradition he’ll continue.

I suppose that’s what it’s all about in the end: traditions. As a young married couple, we’re still trying to figure out how we will choose to celebrate the holidays. We’re still deciding when we want to open gifts and whether or not we’ll put up a tree, but we are sure about a few things. For us, the holidays mean celebrating with the people we love and being thankful for the things we have. We even enjoy putting presents under the tree—we are just proud of the fact that most of them were made by hand.

Holiday Spirits

A wish for the coming year

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May the new year bring you

In December Pete attempted infusing vodka, and he's getting pretty good at it.

In December Pete tried infusing vodka, and he’s getting pretty good at it.

to the farthest reaches

Pete and I celebrated our first anniversary in Duluth this past June.

In June Pete and I spent our first anniversary in Duluth.

of your imagination

Pete and I celebrated his 27th birthday checking out Dinosaurs! at the Minnesota Zoo.

In July Pete and I celebrated his 27th birthday at the Minnesota Zoo.

and to the closest corners

The Ray family welcomed its newest edition, Jaxon Everett Pollard, in November.

In November the Ray family welcomed its newest member, Jaxon Everett Pollard.

of your inner home.

We spent August organizing our new home in Morris.

In August we returned to Morris, bringing our library with us.

 

I wish you comfort and blessings in the coming year, friends.

Indie celebrated Christmas on her new favorite blanket (she got several this year). :)

Indie celebrated Christmas on her new favorite blanket.

How To Curate a Capsule Closet

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If you’ve been reading the blog you’ve probably seen me writing a lot about my capsule closet. What exactly is a capsule closet? Often composed of approximately 10 staple items, a capsule closet, or minimalist wardrobe, is a collection of several classic, well-constructed pieces that can be combined to create many different outfits. Items in the capsule closet are neither overly formal or casual, but are intended to transition from one event to the next: from the office, to home, to dinner, and beyond. For more information about the minimalist wardrobe, check out miss minimalist or The Daily Connoisseur.

I’ve been working on my own capsule closet for a while now, and am pleased with the results. I have managed to build what I think is a quality collection of pieces that will not only complement one another, but will also complement my shape, coloring, and lifestyle. None of my clothing is overly fussy, yet I feel I could wear most of it almost anywhere. With some hard work, I have managed to curate the closet of my dreams. Care to peek inside?

Jenna’s Capsule Wardrobe

3 day dresses

2 cardigans (per season)

3 blouses

1 skirt

1 pair of dress pants

Extras

Blazers

Wool Pea Coat

Cocktail Dress

You’ll notice a few things about my closet: namely, that there are more than 10 things in it. As a resident of this fine state, I have come to appreciate a wide variety of temperatures and dew points. During the summer, our heat and humidity often combine to reach heat indexes upwards of 120 degrees. In the winter, our wind chills can dip down to at least -60. During the spring and summer, we can often swing from one extreme to the other; in fact, the state record for the maximum temperature change in one 24-hour period is 71 degrees Fahrenheit. (Don’t believe me? Check it out.) Needless to say, we must be ready for anything in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The nature of our seasonal extremes necessitates clothing that accommodates a pretty sizable temperature shift, so I keep lots of layering items in my closet as well as seasonal alternatives for some of my staples.  I also make exceptions for specialty items such as formal wear and running gear.

I do, therefore, have slightly more than 10 items in my closet. While my closet may house 10+ items, the basic idea behind my wardrobe is the same as the underlying principle of capsule closets, according to Jennifer L. Scott of the The Daily Connoisseur:

The 10 Item Wardrobe should not be taken so literally as to inspire panic… So do what works for you. The point of the 10 Item Wardrobe is to ultimately free yourself from a jam packed closet full of ill fitting, underused or poor quality clothing. Your ultimate goal is to create a wardrobe that you love- where every item of clothing speaks to who you are.

What about you, friends? Does anyone else have any style rules by which he or she abides? How do you cut back while still finding a way to look your best?

When September is in the chair…

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Here is the sun as it drops below the horizon just east of Morris.

I remember one of the first things to strike me about Morris was how beautiful the greenery looks at the end of August. When the sun hits the horizon and the end of summer is almost upon this little town, the grass and tree leaves reflect a luminous emerald hue. Take it from me, friends: to see it is to fall in love.

Riding my bike out by Pomme de Terre last week, I was struck by that old feeling of awe and affection. I have always, and will always, love this place.

It’s funny how some things never change, and how some things do. Two short days after my emerald sunset, the grass had taken on a shade closer to peridot, and the first scarlet sumac crept up on the landscape. That’s the way things are at the onset of September, just before autumn takes its seat near the fire. It’s a fickle month, a changeable month, one that leads us all to make the same kinds of sudden decisions and revisions.

We’ve had some September reversals in our home, too. My life took an unexpected turn late last month, and that I couldn’t be more pleased. I was offered the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream by becoming a professional writer, a chance I couldn’t possibly pass up.

I dreamed of being a writer long before I dreamed of anything else. Although I’ve spent several years dancing in and out and around a variety of other choices, I was recently given the chance to make my original dream come true. How could I say no?

It’s funny how quickly things turn around as summer turns to fall. My decision to come home to Morris inspired my beloved to make the brave choice of returning to school to fulfill his dream of becoming a language arts teacher. Although we seem to have reversed our intended roles, each of us feels we’ve made the best choice for ourselves, for our family, and for this community that we love. The onset of autumn in Morris just does that, I guess.

So here we stand as summer fades away. Pete is spending his days in the classroom, I’m spending mine rapidly typing away, and the grass is changing from emerald to peridot.

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