Things I Love: My Life Simplifiers

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Lately, I’ve been pretty thankful for a few things in my life that make my life simpler and help me enjoy life more. They range from nail polishes to washing machines but every one of them has made my life go smoother and taken less time out of my day in the long run. Let me share these (semi) life-changing things with you. And no, no one is paying me to say any of this.

Porter & Charles Combi 9-6

This is one of my most prized possessions these days. Yes, it’s my washing machine. But it’s also my dryer. Most North Americans don’t know this type of product exists, but it’s somewhat common in Europe where space is much more limited. My mother-in-law was forced to buy one when she had to replace her old stackable set because she was too short to reach the buttons on the new stackables and that’s all she had room for. It took her a little getting used to, but she suggested I try it out in my new place because I only have a small closet for my laundry space.

Guys, it’s the greatest! Most people ask me how long a cycle takes and how much it can hold. I certainly do more loads than I used to because the barrel is smaller, but I’m also surprised at how much this little guy can fit. For us, it’s perfect. I’m in the stage of life where it’s easiest for me to do a load of laundry every day. I don’t have that many clothes anyway, so it works well. The longest a load has taken for me (very large, 90ºC water, full dry) has been 6 hours. Yes, that sounds long but when you put it in at the beginning of the day (or in the middle of the night) and when you return it’s all finished with no risk of forgetting to switch the load into the dryer, it’s really not that bad. The fastest wash setting is 12 minutes, meant to do one or two items that you’d need to wear again that day perhaps. There have been times when I have had a ton of laundry to do after coming home from trips or just procrastinating with my loads. It really wasn’t that hard to get through all our laundry in one day + night. It’s quite flexible.

I even do my cloth diapers in it and it’s fantastic. I do a cold rinse with the 12 minute wash setting (because it’s faster than the actual rinse setting), then flick it on to the saved setting that washes them in 90ºC water and rinses 3x. Done! Love.

For people with small living spaces, smaller families or the habit of doing laundry regularly, it’s an excellent option.

GelMoment DIY manicure set

Last year I was introduced to GelMoment by my mom. It’s a DIY gel nail polish system that is free of the top 5 toxins usually found in nail polishes and gel polishes. And get this: it lasts for at least 2 weeks! Women, rejoice!

I have been a nail biter all of my life. The only thing that gets me to actually stop is a nice layer of nail polish. But regular nail polishes that chip or wear off in a couple days is no real defense. No one really wants to do their nails every other day to keep it fresh, and few can afford regular manicures. Lately drug stores have been selling gel polishes for pretty cheap, but you’re still exposing yourselves to wicked chemicals. Have you smelled those polishes before?

But with Gel Moment, I can give myself a glorious manicure that will last me 2 weeks and have no concern for my pregnancy or kids in the room. The stuff doesn’t even smell! It’s magic. If you live in the Montreal area, I’m having a nail party in a few weeks so message me and I’ll send you the details.

Simplified Planner

I bought one of these right before I had Jack. This thing helped me stay sane during that first year. I loved the way the pages were laid out and BEAUTIFUL. It has a space to write out your meal plan, fill in your daily schedule etc. I always keep my daily schedule in my phone calendar, but I wrote out what was happening with my little guy in that section. It helped me keep track of his patterns in those early months. I also kept track of things I was thankful for each day. It was super helpful. Did I mention BEAUTIFUL?

Even though they’re pricey, it was worth it for me to buy another one to help me stay on top of all my tasks this next baby (did I mention I’m pregnant again? I should blog more). I was so pleased to find out that Chapters/Indigo carries Emily Ley products online, which ends up being much cheaper than buying directly from her website for us Canadians. Woo! I also love Chapters.

Nespresso machine + milk frother

Probably one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received, was last year for my birthday. Willy splurged (big time!) on this set for me. Our latte machine that we were gifted for our wedding had been broken for over a year by this point. As I finished opening it and, mouth still agape, he explained, “With this, I can see you chasing after a toddler and bouncing a baby on your hip and still being able to get a latte in your day.” I LOVE THAT GUY.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the calibre of espresso the machine produces. Much better quality than a Keurig or Tassimo, that’s for sure. It’s certainly not as precise and haut game as an espresso pulled by a $10, 000 latte machine from your local third wave coffee joint, but it’s quite good. Also, it works at the push of a button (or 2 if you want steamed milk as well).

Scentsy scents filling my home.

This one doesn’t make my life simpler, but it does make my life more enjoyable. In the dead of winter when there was no way we were leaving our house during the day, my mood was lifted high with the smell of Spring Symphony floating through my kitchen. When you spend so much time in your home, you have to do things to help make it enjoyable and lovely. For me, this is one of those things. I didn’t use it during my first trimester because I was so sensitive to smells, but now that I’ve got it back on and it’s a dream. I’ve been using it long enough that I have some standard scents I use: Ambrosia, Pink Haze, Spring Symphony, Summer Holiday, Very Peary Pumpkin in the Fall, and Eskimo Kiss in the Winter.

What are yours?

That’s it! I’d love to hear if you have things that make your life much simpler, whether it’s a kitchen gadget you use regularly or an app on your phone. Leave a comment!

How’s that working for you?

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Not my actual house.

I’m not a very tidy person. My room was always a mess, but I almost always knew where things were. My mom would beg me to clean it and I would refuse every time, making it into a huge argument. Most times after I tidied, I could never find my things again. I haven’t really outgrown this, but I have learned a few things about it (I always have more things than places to put them, which is why everything is a mess; I’m lazy to tidy until things get so bad and then I’m so overwhelmed and feel unable to fix it… These two things are probably worth a few blogposts in themselves).

Having an 18 month old has been teaching me about how much stuff I have and how much it is always out. Since he can now climb up on chairs and access the dining table (which is a notorious “hot spot” of cluttered items waiting to be put away), suddenly it seems there are no safe places for our junk.
I’m finally realizing that my “system” of “crap everywhere” is starting to cause me more grief than the small time it could take to put it away. For a solid 29 years, I got away with leaving my junk all over. As Dr. Phil always asked, “How’s that working for you?” It worked. But now my papers, books, wallets, purses are being put at risk of being torn, eaten, pulled apart, or coloured on.
To be sure, we haven’t mastered this; we still have quite a ways to go. And despite these #toddlerdays being really difficult and trying, things are a lot easier when there’s nothing for him to get into. And that’s on me!

Learn to be generous

Willy and I want to be generous people. It’s something we’ve learned a bit about already, but are still cultivating. Working for a charity, we live off the generosity of others. We know first hand how important it is. Even before we started working with this organization, we desired to be generous people. We have benefitted immensely in giving our money away, even when we felt like we really needed it.

How I learned to be more generous

I used to be a bit stingy. One summer as a student I had very little. My job search had been unfruitful up until that point. I had rashly invited people to supper, not realizing I was poor. I was going to have to share the very little I had. Providentially, I came across this verse in the book of Proverbs:

“Don’t eat with people who are stingy; don’t desire their delicacies. ‘Eat and drink,’ they say, but they don’t mean it. They are always thinking about how much it costs.” Proverbs 23:6-7

I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to be able to enjoy the people I was with, not resenting them for gobbling up my last pennies. So I went ahead with the meal and chose to be happy about giving what little I had. To this day, I don’t think they knew I was in such a bad position financially, and I’m happy they got to eat blissfuly unaware. We had a lot of fun that day.

Just like anything, you can practice generosity. It might hurt a lot at first. You might break out into sweats thinking about the $4 latté they ordered. You might want to bail on your idea of buying theirs once you realize they ordered a Venti latte with 7 pumps of chocolate. You thought they’d get a coffee like usual. Go ahead and buy it. Maybe that $9 latte is all you can afford in terms of extra spending that month. Try it.

Consider giving $50, $100, $200 to a cause you have always valued, but have yet to give; Or, consider giving monthly to something that deeply concerns you.

What you will gain

1. You will value what you have more. You will realize that you can manage while helping others out. It helps us to be thankful and also to identify with those who give in order to make our charity work.

2. It positions you to live more simply. Some people may really have to pinch pennies in order to give to causes they value. I’m learning that penny pinching isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes I feel stressed if there is little (or no) margin in our budget. The stress comes from forgetting that we have budgeted precisely in order to save, give, and enjoy. We are working towards all of our financial goals, including the goal of “Being generous.”

3. You will be the one in control (rather than it controlling you). Willy and I don’t want to be controlled by anything, especially money. So in order to control it, we give it away. We are learning to give it away especially when we feel like we can’t. This helps remind us that it wont rule our lives, we rule it. It helps us to remember that we have it good. We have things to be thankful for. We can always be generous.

Remember

  • It’s a lot easier to start when you’re young (and idealistic). If you build the habit before you have a mortgage and kids, you will grow used to giving money away rather than spending it on yourself!
  • Check your heart. There are different strategies to managing your money. I chose to give to charities while still paying off my student loan. Not everyone would do it that way. On the other hand, it’s easy to say “I’ll give to charities when I pay off my mortgage” which is (for some) the equivalent to “Never.” Check your heart! Are you avoiding it because you’re a grinch, or because you’re convinced you need to get your financial life in order first?
  • You can enjoy life (lattés! wine!) and still give. No one says that living like a pauper in order to give everything is morally better than enjoying life and giving. You can be a grinch in both situations. “God loves a cheerful giver!” (And if you don’t believe in God, put “everyone” in its place. Or something.)

Have you experienced the joy of giving, even when you didn’t have a lot? What are your fears related to being generous? What Next Actions can you take to opening up your heart and wallet?

Watermelons and Birthdays

watermelonI used to hate watermelons. Every summer I would inevitably find myself in a situation where people were passing around the watermelon and I would let it go by. “You don’t want some?” someone would ask. “No thanks. I don’t really like watermelon.” Their eyes would widen and bulge a bit with a look of “What’s wrong with you?” I would shrug.

It tasted like water. Nothing special. Boring.

I also used to consume a lot of sugar. You may not think the two were linked, but they were.

We used to go out to eat a lot, too. In Montreal, eating out is the way to socialize. I used to eat out at least once a week (after church with friends), sometimes two, three or four times a week. Once we got married, we always went out after church with friends. Sometimes it was twice a week. We enjoyed being culinary tourists of our own city.

A year and a half ago I cut out sugar. About a year ago we decided it was best for Willy to start his Masters. You may not think those two things are linked, but they are.

Last month we celebrated my birthday. We drove to Kitchener, I got my free Starbucks drink, and we went out to Red Lobster for lunch. It was my favourite birthday ever. In some ways, it wasn’t anything special, yet it was.

It was special because I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had Starbucks this summer. It was special because we rarely eat out these days as we had to make financial adjustments to help pay for Willy’s masters. It was special because we got to do the things that are somewhat normal for us back in Montreal: sit, drink coffee, read/write alone together and go for lunch! (I don’t know why I love eating out so much but I do! Yum.)

This week, as I found myself enjoying several slices of watermelon I realized how much more I’m enjoying life with less. Less sugar, less eating out, less shopping, less consistent indulgence in rich things. When I do get to have them, they’re so much better! I enjoy and appreciate them more.

Honestly, I’m surprised. I never imagined these two changes would impact my enjoyment of life so much. That was never really the intention. I never imagined overconsumption would lead to boredom. I thought I was just doing a lot of what I enjoyed!

Do you have a similar story? Or maybe the complete opposite experience? Have you ever done a lot of what you loved and found you loved it less?

Living Simply (Part 2): What do we deserve?

Catch Part 1 here: The Difficulty of Living Simply

Thanks to everyone who left comments and gave feedback regarding my first post. There were some helpful comments practically as well as more theoretically. In the comments, Catherine said the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been helpful for her in reducing her consumption: Je pense qu’une de mes motivations premières à vivre plus simplement, c’est de pouvoir partager avec les pauvres (I think one of my primary motivations in living more simply is to be able to share avec those less fortunate.). Related to this,  Beth wrote a post that hits on the same subject from a similar angle to Catherine. As I pondered, commented, and continued to reflect, I had some insight into myself again.

Beth writes about what struck her about a conversation she had with Amelia (who writes about that same convo here). They were discussing the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh.

“By shopping at these stores, we are basically saying, I deserve to buy a shirt for $10. Instead of saying, I can’t afford so I’ll go without, we say, I deserve a shirt that is affordable, so I’m going to buy this one.”

When I thought about it, this was true of me as well. Not only that, but I feel like I deserve a lot of clothing at a price I can afford in order to fit in in a basic way in society. My price point is determined by how much I want/think I need. “I need 5 pairs of jeans, so I’ll buy $15 jeans instead of more expensive jeans.”

The living simply solution seems fairly simple in my mind if I take it from this angle: if I choose to pay (a lot) more for ethically sourced clothing etc, I will not have a choice in living simply. My budget just cannot withstand 20 pairs of $20 underwear! This seems fairly reasonable, unless you consider further just how difficult it is to find clothes that fit this category.

While this probably wont curb my desire for more it is a helpful restraint in putting that into action. It will help me contemplate at what cost more comes. Do I really want more at the expense of others?

But, as I think more about it I still wonder if having these motivations in living simply will ever completely convince me always. As The Minimalist Mom writes in this post, even when we pair our lives down to the basics and it all seems great at first, we can grow tired of it and find it burdensome. This isn’t a reason not to pursue it but a reason not to look to it to solve any problems.

The problem is in us, not in stuff. Stuff isn’t bad — it has no moral value — it’s how we use it and look to it to give us meaning or value in life.

For those of you thinking about this along with me, do you think there’s value in living more simply? Why or why not? If so, what is a helpful motivation for you. ‘Social justice’? Anti-consumer culture values? Help us keep this thought process going by sharing your perspective in the comments. If you’re interested, check out how many slaves you have.

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