December 17, 2012

A Minimalist Haircut

I refuse to spend more than 5 minutes on my hair in the morning. A quick wash and condition, towel dry and comb and maybe some styling cream and that's all I want to commit to. However, what I want now is to really minimize my hair routine by cutting it all off.

Currently I have the kind of hair that many of my friends say they would kill for. It's naturally blonde and naturally curly and pretty fine. It air dries quickly with just some scrunching and my friend Nancy calls it the "best beach hair." I just wish I was always on the beach. But with curly hair comes frizziness and with blonde hair comes brassiness. Every strand goes flying or gets tangled in the slightest breeze and I usually end up putting it up in a bun or a ponytail just to get it out of my face.

About 12-13 years ago I got so tired of it that I cut it all off and ended up looking a lot like Mia Farrow with her signature pixie cut. I loved the feel of it and after most people got over the shock of seeing my long curls gone, I think they liked it too. However, with such short hair, I had to get it cut every month and that cost added up.

I am in the mood again to hack it off and have a really minimal cut ala Charlize Theron or Emma Watson. I would be curious to hear from you about how you feel about your own hair and how you minimize your hair frustrations.

December 2, 2012

Tool Shed Decluttering

We have a small pump house/tool shed in our yard that has a tendency to become a catchall for all our summer projects and items. I decided this fall to clean it from top to bottom and re-organize all the tools and equipment in it. The larger items, like the lawn mower and edger seemed to take up most of the space, but once I found room for everything else, those two items fit in just fine. The key was to utilize the wall space as much as possible with tool racks, a shelf for our above ground pool items and strong hooks for the edger. An old kitchen cabinet works great for smaller tools and items.



November 18, 2012

Decluttering Under the Stairs Storage

In my mother's house is a strange, but rather large cabinet under the stairs. For years it has been neglected and random items like Halloween decorations, Christmas wrapping paper and art projects have been relegated to this dark hole. It's also been the place where my husband likes to store his various beers. There was never any shelving built in the space, so over time it has become cluttered and items are just piled on top of each other. With the holidays coming up, I thought last weekend would be a good time to clean out and organize the cabinet. That meant putting on knee pads and climbing into the dark, cobwebby space. Fun.

I purchased a few plastic shelving packages from Home Depot and began to clean and toss out what was not being used. You can see below what the space used to look like. Don't ask what was going to be done with that huge gourd in the corner.

Below you can see what the space looked like after I tackled it. Since I got rid of so much junk and old boxes, I did not have to utilize the space in the very back of the cabinet. In addition, it only took me about one hour to clean out the space and reorganize it. My cabinet under the stairs project is a good example of what can be accomplished in an afternoon with only about $60 worth of shelving and some knee pads.

 Photos by Christina Nellemann

November 9, 2012

How Clean is Your Cell Phone?

Those handy, little devices go with us everywhere: the car, our coat pockets, the bathroom. Have you ever really considered how dirty that cell phone is when you stick it next to your face? 

I've been re-watching a bunch of the "How Clean is Your House?" shows that ran on the BBC a few years ago. I adore Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie and their clutter, grime and dirt busting tactics. In addition, after watching a show, I REALLY want to clean and disinfect my entire house.

Then I got to thinking about my cell phone. How often do I really clean the thing and what bacteria and microbes are crawling on my keypad?

According to the site, Keeping It Klean, the average cell phone...
  • can contain germs like Staphylococcus, Micrococcus and Bacillus, and one in six cellular phones is contaminated with fecal matter;
  • has more contamination than a toilet, a doorknob and the bottom of a shoe;
  • has bacteria on it than can live for more than a week;
  • contains tens of thousands of germs on each square inch and these germs can multiply when the phone is warmed up by heavy use or by the warmth from your hands and face.

There is hope. However, a daily cleaning regiment is required. This can include using sanitary wipes (check with your phone manufacturer first), a paper towel and rubbing alcohol, and a cotton swab and alcohol for the little nooks and crannies.

Also, this year a group of college students from Utah have invented a cell phone cleaner/charger that uses UV light to clean and disinfect cell phones. The Phone Soap only takes about three minutes to clean a phone, but they can also be left in the cleaner overnight.

All it takes are the word "fecal matter" to get people up and cleaning.

Photo by wine me up

November 1, 2012

Preparing to Go on a Clothes Diet

While many people will start the New Year with a new food diet, in 2013 I will be not be buying any more clothes.

I have enough.

For the next two months, I will be scrutinizing my closet, what I wear on a daily basis and will attempt to have enough outfits and practical clothing items to get me through the next 365 days. The goal is to have enough items to keep me stylish and appropriate for work, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I will be purging what no longer works, but I will also purchase one or two things to round out my wardrobe and to make sure I have enough socks and underwear.

The idea behind this challenge is that all of us really have all we need in our closets to stay warm and clothed. The constant wanting for new items has nothing to do with not having anything to wear, but more with being bored with what we already own.

This is what I've been learning about my own clothing purchases and how my habits will affect this challenge:

Get rid of and don't purchase the "just in case" stuff

It's highly unlikely I will ever walk the red carpet, so I am not going to go looking for a pair of black kitten heels to keep "just in case".

Embrace the staples

I reach for the same tank tops and black, long sleeved tops all the time. These will become the staples of my wardrobe and I will make them work with every other item I have. I have struggled over the years to find a "uniform", so I hope this challenge will enable me to find what works best for me.

Take care of what you have

When thinking of not purchasing clothes for a year, I got a little panicky. What if my favorite sweater completely unravels? What if a heel comes off my shoe? I relaxed and realized that I sometimes treat my favorite clothes in a not so nice way. Now I am conscious of taking off my nice shoes when I get home rather than running out into the garden with them. I also will quickly sew up a hole in that sweater before it grows to the size of Minneapolis.

Replace worn out or inferior items…but not right away

If I have an item that I think needs to be replaced, I am going to really think about how I wear that item and if I really do wear it enough to justify purchasing something similar.

Photo by Sue Westergaard

October 12, 2012

Decluttering the Morning Routine

This morning I counted each toiletry product as I used it. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, makeup and mouthwash all got counted and I was a little disconcerted that for my typical morning routine I ended up using 15 different products. Is that really necessary?

Over the years I have attempted to reduce the amount of toiletries that I use with some success and I've been able to keep the shower, bathroom drawers and under-sink area clean and clutter-free, but 15 items seemed like too much.

For a typical morning I use:

1. Dr. Wood's Shea Vision Pure Black Soap (for showering and shaving)
2. Shampoo (usually Burt's Bees or Garnier Fructis Organic)
3. Organix Argan Oil conditioner (my hair is super dry and curly)
4. Organix Argan Oil heavy conditioner (for styling)

5. Degree or crystal deodorant
6. Body lotion (shea butter or Pure Fiji that I bought in Fiji)

7. Physician's Formula tinted moisturizer with sunscreen
8. Physician's Formula bronzer (I'm pale)
9. Physician's Formula mascara (Again…I'm pale)
10. Cover Girl brown blush for eyeshadow

11. Tom's of Maine toothpaste
12. Sonicare toothbrush (my dentist loves me)
13. Floss
14. Listerine Total Care mouthwash

This morning I added in one more thing:

15. Q-Tips (for cleaning ears)

Even though this seemed like a lot to me, I was proud that my makeup routine takes less than 60 seconds. On most weekends and when I'm camping I eschew the makeup.

So I started thinking what I could do without. Do I really need an extra type of conditioner for styling my hair? Do I really need that chemically mouthwash? What about getting rid of that eyeshadow? Can I combine any makeup items? I do love that the tinted moisturizer is doing triple duty and I'm wondering how many other products can do double or triple duty.

Next time you do your morning routine, count your personal toiletry items and see what number you come up with. What can you get down to? I'd love to hear from you.

Photo by nimble photography

October 3, 2012

Save Your Fives

Do you want to save up for something? A fun way to go about it is to save your five-dollar bills. Any time you get change from that $20 and you end up with a $10 and a $5 — pocket the $10, but take the $5 and put it in a jar or envelope.

After a couple of months, deposit the bills into a specific bank account just for your goal. Use the easy account setup with ING and have access to that money when you hit your goal. It's an easy and simple way to save up for something. If you happen to save two to three $5 bills a week, you will have saved up about $500 to nearly $800 in a year.

Photo by laszlo-photo

August 8, 2012

Messy Veggies

With the summer heat comes the abundance of neighborhood vegetable gardens. August and September usually give birth to multitudes of tomato, squash, sunflowers, herbs and peppers and you can really see what your winter and spring work can accomplish.

Now that you are reaping your delicious rewards, you can also keep this in mind: the vegetable garden is a wonderful place to keep things messy. Sure, we all want our gardens to look as good as the ones created by the Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart, but like most things these perfect women do, it's unrealistic. Gardens are outside and outside is disorganized.

Glorious tomato plants don't care if they are in perfectly measured rows with matching cages; they just want a lot of hot sun and a little bit of water. Weeds are going to pop up in the most unlikely places and friendly little birds and bugs can't be eradicated in one fell swoop. Because of the heat and general summer laziness, I really don't feel like getting all the weeds out of my beds (which are made of old fence wood). My walkways really need to be mowed and my compost pile is really piling up. That's okay, my plants still grow and I don't want to stress too much about it.

It does make for wonderful peace of mind when your house, closets, vehicle and workspace are clean and organized, but I think once in a while you should have permission to be a little messy.

Photo courtesy of Magalie L'Abbé

July 26, 2012

My Minimalist Travel Wardrobe

I love to travel. Over the years, I've visited fantastic places like Japan and Fiji, Turkey and Easter Island, the Czech Republic and the Galapagos Islands and have loved every minute of it. After my first few trips, I quickly realized that packing super light is the only way to travel.

I can't travel without a good raincoat. This basic black coat is from Patagonia and has saved me in several downpours.

When discussing travel wardrobes with other world travelers, I've come to the conclusion that too many people are concerned with what others are going to think about them based on their clothes. I don't think I've ever thought differently about a fellow traveler with fascinating travel stories by what shirt he or she is wearing. I've chosen these clothing items to join me on my trips because of their versatility, various pockets, and ability to dry quickly and keep their shape while I hike, bike, run for trains or swim in tropical waters.

From my typical travel wardrobe, you'll notice that most of my items are black or gray. These basic items are in dark colors that hide dirt and can fit into nearly any situation (except maybe a black-tie ball). I intersperse my wardrobe with a few colors and a bright scarf to liven it up. I only bring two pairs of shoes: a good walking/hiking pair and some flip flops. If I know I'm going to a wedding, fancy party or to a more cosmopolitan area (e.g. New York City, Los Angeles) I may throw in some nice jeans, flats or a dress. However, these are my typical items that I bring on every trip, and to make it even easier, I keep them all in one area of closet so I can grab-and-go.

I bring several long sleeve shirts that I can use for daily wear, sleeping or for layering. Wearing all three of these shirts together keeps me warmer than one bulky sweater. The top shirt is one of my favorites: it's a Patagonia wicking top with a big pocket on the back. I've used that pocket for my wallet and money, to store additional clothing and for holding my lunch for the day. The second black top is another wool Patagonia layering piece with a zip neck and the third shirt is a Scottevest Women's Q-Zip in Violet.

I've really fallen in love with the Scottevest brand. Their well-made and versatile clothes are full of pockets, which is a necessity for light packers. I purchased the Women's Lightweight Vest for its 20 pockets (including one huge back pocket) and have taken it on every trip since.

I always take a scarf or Buff to wear around my neck on planes or in cold weather, as a blanket on the beach or protection from the sun. I purchased this scarf at a shop in midtown Manhattan for about $3 and I love how soft it is.

I always bring some sort of leggings, yoga pants or workout pants with me. They usually do triple or quadruple duty as loungewear, workout wear, pajamas or a layering piece to put under my pants or shorts.

Finding good travel pants seems to be a struggle for women travelers. While my Merrel Lanaia pants/skirt combo are looking a little wrinkled in the above photos, they are actually excellent travel pants. They are seven clothing items in one: zip-off pants, shorts (which are not dumb-looking like most zipped-off shorts), capris, a skort (the shorts and skirt together), a skirt, a skirt/pant combo or a skirt/capri combo. These were the only pants I took on a trip to Chile and Easter Island and they traveled/washed and dried like a charm.

Whether I'm going to a warm or cold climate, I always have one or two t-shirts and a few tank tops to use for hot weather, layering and for sleeping.

If I'm heading to the tropics, I will throw in a bikini and a rash guard. The flip flops are always in my bag for hot weather, lounging around a hostel and walking to and from an outdoor onsen in Tokyo.

I really only bring about 3-4 pairs of underwear and two bras or sports bras. They are always in rotation — one pair on, one pair drying after being washed and one pair waiting to be worn.

My tried and true Ryka shoes have hiked mountains, walked cobblestone streets, and have been soaked in downpours. They are starting to show their age and I will have to replace them soon, but these types of nondescript shoes are perfect for the traveler who packs light.

June 21, 2012

Falling off the declutter wagon

Even though you may have made excellent strides to declutter your life, is it okay to fall off the declutter wagon? That's the way my life has been for the past few months, rather than getting simpler, my life has gotten a bit more complicated: visiting family members, work and home projects and new hobbies have gotten in the way of me trying to obtain a decluttered home and a clear head.

What's the best way to get back on the wagon bound for a simpler life? I've come to these conclusions:


Take a look at what might be blocking your process. Have you decided to do something on a whim and it's causing you anxiety and distress? It's okay to let it go. For example, I have several family members coming to visit for a month this summer and they are not used to the heat. I was practically killing myself to make them comfortable and was even thinking of getting an expensive above-ground pool. After much thought and a push from my husband, I dropped the idea and I feel a lot better. My relatives are great, but they can go to the lake.

Life happens, even when you try to make it simple

Things happen that are entirely out of your control. You might just make yourself crazy trying to constantly stay in control. It's okay to let go of some things that don't jive with your uncluttered life.

Let things get messy for a while

It's okay if your life gets hectic and wild for a few months. Don't pout or overreact. Things will get back to normal soon.

Find just a few minutes of peace each day

If your life has gotten a little too wild for your taste, plan for just a few minutes (during your lunch hour, at 5 a.m., in the garden or during a walk) to take a few breaths and clear your head.

Photo by taomancer/Flickr

April 9, 2012

Simple Apps

The appeal of apps is mesmerizing. There are so many apps that say FREE next to them that it's difficult not to click and download them to your device of choice. Before you know it, your iPod, iPhone or iPad is filled up with the tiny boxes with the rounded corners – and most of them you don't even use or need.

It took a crash on my device and the loss of all my apps to realize that I don't need to download every app that I come across. These are the five apps that I have found to be the most useful and that I use nearly every day.

1. iXpensit: $4.99

I use this app all the time to track my daily expenses. It's a lifesaver when it comes to doing my monthly spending and income reports. It's totally worth it at $4.99.

2. Kindle: Free

With the Kindle app on my iPod Touch, I can load up both free and purchased books from the Amazon store directly to my device.
3. Relax Melodies: Free for the lite version

This app allows me to create my own nature or white noise sounds to use while I'm meditating, napping or trying to drown out outside noise. I love the Rain + Zen music mix.
4. Google Translate: Free

Google Translate has become very handy for traveling. It can translate up to 60 languages.
5. Star Walk: $2.99

This is my fun app. It's fascinating to be able to look up a the night sky,  wonder what some bright object is and be able to identify it with more information than you ever needed. It's a blast for those who love to gaze at the sky when not looking at their iPad.

March 20, 2012

The Simple Suitcase

I will be taking several trips this year: Hawaii, New Orleans, Chile and Easter Island. None of these places really have anything in common, except that I will be traveling with one small carry-on bag to each of them.

In the past 15 years of traveling, I have yet to check a bag. I have used only one carry-on bag for each of my trips, and I've used the same style of packing whether I am traveling for a few days or for a month. I even went "no baggage" for a trip to Texas last year. Most of the time I carry a Patagonia MLC wheel/backpack hybrid, but for my recent trip to Hawaii I only carried a school day pack.

The idea of traveling with one bag seems to be a subject that a lot of people are interested in, and blog posts written by people like Colin Wright and Craig and Linda of Indie Travel Podcast all tout the positive aspects of carrying your immediate world on your back (and having it fit nicely in an airline overhead bin).

So, why travel with just one carry-on bag?

1. There is less to worry about

You will not have to stress that the airline will lose your luggage, someone will rifle through your underwear or your bag will end up in Batanbang while you are waiting for it in Boston.

2. No waiting at the baggage carousel

Waiting with hundreds of other people at the baggage carousel while you are half-asleep is not fun. Bypass the carousel and get the first taxi out of the airport.

3. It's easier to run for that train you are late for or to make a quick getaway

While it's never great to be late for a train or bus, it's even less fun to have to run through a strange city while carrying a 40 pound bag plus your two carry-on bags. In addition, with the state of the world these days (and those pesky natural disasters) it's nice to know that if something happens, you can grab your small bag and make a quick getaway.

My next post will be how I pack a small, minimalist travel wardrobe.

March 16, 2012

Declutter your brain with one word

One word.

At the beginning of my yoga class, the instructor asks each of us to think of one word to keep in our mind, repeat and listen to throughout each practice. Several of my past words have been:





The idea of focusing on one word for a period of time has been profound for me. In daily life, so many other words run rampant through my brain: email check drive keys door lock credit keyboard ATM iPod headphones phone check meeting deadline call mistake...

Being able to focus, if just for an hour, on one simple word has allowed me to declutter my mind and re-balance in order to face another onslaught of daily words.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg

February 14, 2012


 Recently I have been watching the YouTube channel created by minimalistbeth, a woman who is in the process of slowly getting rid of the majority of her possessions in order to pay down debt, live simply and move back to her home in New York. Her basic and to the point videos are inspirational and reflect what a lot of Americans I'm sure are feeling: a desire to live with a lot less and to hopefully become happier and healthier in the process. Beth is now living in one room of her Phoenix apartment, has no car or TV and will soon be quitting her job and packing her minimalist wardrobe to fly off to a better life. Good luck Beth!

February 10, 2012

Simplify Your Signature

Over the years, my signature has gone from my full name (all 23 letters!) to just my first name and the initial of my last name and now it is just one large capital "C" to represent my first name. One woman at one store had the nerve to say that my single letter signature wasn't a signature. I boldly looked her right in the eye and told it it WAS a signature and it was mine.

How many things a day to you have to sign? Credit card receipts, purchase orders, FedEx or UPS packages, work items or paperwork? How much time could be saved by simplifying your signature. Before I reduced the size of my signature, I dreaded having to write out my name, now I actually enjoy writing that big, bold "C".

Photo by Hammer51012/Flickr

February 3, 2012

Phasing Out of Facebook

Facebook is on the brink of one of the largest IPO's in history. No one really knows what this will do for the millions of Facebook users and businesses, but we do know that it will make a few people very, very wealthy. Even with all the IPO hubbub, what if you decide you are tired of being part of the largest social media network in the world? How about dumping Facebook for good?

Many users of Facebook have shown their displeasure about the social media network's privacy issues, and according to a poll over 50 percent of Facebook users have considered moving over to Google+ instead.

If you are having a difficult time removing yourself from the most popular social network ever created, then do it in phases. Each phase will help any Facebook addict to slowly quit the pull of status posts, Farmville and the Timeline.

Phase #1

Cut down Facebook time to once or twice a week instead of daily. In addition to this, don't stay logged into Facebook all day. It makes it too tempting to just stop what you're doing and get lost in Facebook-land.

Stop putting your entire life on Facebook. Only post your status once or twice a week and don't let everyone know everything you are doing or every place you are going. 

Stop liking things on Facebook. Don't use your finger or your mouse to vote on what you "Like"; not even for that free pack of gum or entry into a movie ticket contest.

Phase #2

Lurk instead of Like. You can still lurk around Facebook and view other friends' comments, photos, videos, etc., but don't post any status updates or click on any "Like" buttons.

Tell them you are outta here. Contact your closest friends on FB and tell them you are slowly phasing out and give them your Google+ information, Twitter account or email address.

Move your photos over to Google+. The blog,, has a nice guide on how to move your accumulation of photos from Facebook to Google+.

Phase #3

Delete your account. If this makes you nervous, you can reactivate your Facebook account after 14 days of deleting it. If after 14 days, you are having withdrawals, you can always go back.

January 26, 2012

Tucking it Away

 I'm on the lookout for a small cabinet armoire to put in my office in which to house my small collection of books and office supplies. The length, width, color, wood doesn't matter so much as it has to have doors that can close.

The simple act of closing the doors on something as basic as some books, files and paperwork can be powerful. It's a mental vacation from items that remind you of work, study, to-do lists, receipts and bills. When the doors are open, it's time to work; when they are closed, it's time to relax and play.

Besides, open shelves collect dust.

Photo by Dave Jones/Flickr