living simply to live fully

I’ve gotten out of the habit of blogging regularly for a small handful of reasons:

1. I am reaaaaally busy with work. As Martha says, “it’s a good thing!” I am grateful, but let’s be honest: I am tired. Really freakin’ tired.

2. I don’t feel like we’ve done many super exciting things lately, and while I’m certainly not complaining and I’m enjoying my summer very much, I don’t know that anything I have to share is particularly interesting to anyone else. (To be completely honest, pretty much all I want to post about is my adorable niece 24/7, but alas, I resist.)

3. I’m sick of this blog design and ready for something new… I just haven’t had the time to tackle a new design. The curse of being a designer — never completely happy with anything and always wanting to change/improve upon things.

4. I started to feel like a hypocrite posting about cool products and clothes that I have no intention of buying. And I guess that’s the big one.

While I have my moments of wishing we had a house and wishing I could shop like I used to for cute clothes and wishing we could travel more, I am still very at peace with my decision to take the leap to self-employment early last year and the sacrifices that came with that choice. I know it will pay off, and exciting developments and growth have already happened in the year and a half since we started the business, so that’s a great motivation to keep going full steam ahead. The changes, however, have greatly opened my eyes to just how frivolous I used to be with my money, and how much more I truly value every penny now.

If I won the lottery five years ago, I probably would have bought a huge house that I would have filled up with a lot of stuff and gone clothes shopping to my heart’s content. If I won the lottery tomorrow… okay, who am I kidding: I’d still splurge a bit. But I now genuinely have no desire to have a closet that is overflowing with clothes and shoes, or a house bustling with stuff. I still value high quality items very much, and of course I’d like to have a few more of them, but I have seen a lot of value over these last few years in living more simply. I’m really starting to believe the whole “less is more” theory.

When I used to shop for new clothes pretty regularly and could never fully close my dresser drawers, I can bet that I still had the same 10 or so outfits on regular rotation. I’ve never been very good at playing with fashion (though I’d love to have a knack for putting pieces together), and I’m a creature of habit, so it makes sense that I would remain pretty content with a handful of favorite standbys, intermixed with some other less-worn items. It’s not much different now that I shop less and have weeded out a lot of clothes I don’t wear — I just have fewer of the less-worn items taking up space in my dresser.

I used to buy stuff — just random, random stuff — all the time. Now, I really think about if something is going to add value to my life, my space, and my time. Will it lose its cool factor the minute something goes from my shopping cart to my living space, where it is really only taking up space? I hate buying any old gift for someone just because it’s their birthday or Christmas and I’m “supposed” to. I love giving gifts, but I like to give things that are actually useful to the recipient, rather than just something that’s going to get shoved in a closet and forgotten about.

I have learned a lot from my brother and sister-in-law. While having a baby has added a few more possessions to their space, they are still very strategic and thoughtful about bringing any item into their home. It is a beautiful home, generously sized by New York standards, but modestly sized by mainstream standards (particularly to we suburbanites who are used to more space). They don’t have a lot of room for clutter, so they choose their possessions carefully. It makes the things they do have that much more meaningful, and each and every item is there for a reason.

I turned 31 last week (yay?) and aside from a super cool bike and a super cool dSLR, I could not think of a single thing that I really, truly wanted. I looked through my blog wish list, my Pinterest wish list, and thought about it for about a week. In the end, Nick took me out to a nice dinner, my mom got me some gift cards for dining out while we’re down the shore, and I was perfectly content. (Okay, I would have loved to get the bike or the dSLR, but I don’t really expect anyone to spend that much money on me.) I have everything I need, and many things that I don’t need. Too much beyond that is just excess that is adding zero value to my life and taking away from my ability to live fully — free of physical distractions cluttering up my space and, ultimately, my thoughts.

I see items on blogs and Pinterest that are really cool pretty much every day. But I feel a little silly sharing these items with my readers when I am really leaning towards living more simply these days. I’m sure some items will pique my interest enough that I’ll share them with you, and maybe I’m just going through a particularly cynical phase; but rather than just looking for things to post about for the sake of posting something, I’ll probably put more focus on blogging about the things that really, truly interest me.

This is not the first time you’ve heard me ramble about uncluttering my life and my space, but it is a topic worth repeating as it’s something I think about a lot lately. What do you think about the idea of living simply to live fully? Is it the way you live? If so, have you always been a less-is-more person, or have you become one over time?

(And okay fine, just one picture of Ginger with her Aunt Brooke and Uncle Nick, for good measure.)

falling in and out of love

I fall in love with houses a little too easily. I tend to be a glass-half-full kinda girl and I pretty easily see the charm and potential in a home that someone else might immediately write off. As Nick and I have begun house hunting, I’ve realized how my optimism and vision can become a little dangerous, because there is much more to a home than a pretty staircase and a great linen closet.

Like a new roof, a sump pump and expensive kitchen appliances.

But you’re just so cute….won’t you be mine?
(Not one of the actual houses we were considering, but gosh she’s pretty.)

In the last month, I’ve fallen in love with two houses that I thought would become ours. I dreamed about them, crunched the numbers to be sure we could make it work, and asked our realtor a million and one questions.

And then, we let them go.

The first house was easier to let go of because we realized we didn’t love the location, and it didn’t have central air. I have come to accept the fact that central air is a pretty big priority for me….eight years of noisy, rattling window air conditioners during sweltering east coast summers will do that to you.

The second house was a little harder to bid adieu to. It was right next to a park, in a town we love, and in a perfectly central location for everywhere we like (or have) to go often. It was in great condition, had central air and everything else house #1 didn’t have, and was priced just a tad higher. We probably could have made it work….but “probably” is not really the word you want to use when you’re talking about such a huge commitment, is it?

The thing is that buying a house is SCARY… and we’re not quite ready yet. Financially, the last few years have been a little wacky for us, and although I think we’ve passed our adulthood financial responsibility test with flying colors (ie., paying off all credit card debt and a vehicle in the midst of unemployment [him] and then self-employment [me]), we need a few more months to be 100% sure that we can do it.

So….I’m not allowed to look at Realtor.com again until at least July. I am sure the right house will be out there for us when we’re ready, but until then I’ll remain just a little sad about the houses that weren’t. Sniff, sniff.

Have you ventured into the world of home buying?

in the bag

I have been on the hunt for the “perfect” everyday bag for a while now. Something in gray or brown leather, perhaps…not too big, but not too small…simple without a lot of flashy hardware, but still interesting/classic/pretty…not super expensive, but maybe a little bit of a splurge considering how badly I’ve been wanting something new.

I’ve been carrying the same pewter Nine West bag since Nick got it for me for Christmas 2007 (I had asked for it…and sent him a photo and the location where he could find it at Macy’s, naturally). It is a great size — not so big that I feel like I’m carrying everything I own, but big enough that I can throw in my camera and small sketch book with everything else in there — and it has just enough hardware to be interesting but not so much that I feel like J.Lo. It has served its purpose and been a great everyday bag, but it is now looking shoddy as the straps are falling apart, so it’s about time that mama got a new bag.

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for months now, but really haven’t found anything I love. Until…I visited the glorious world of Zappos. (I won’t tell you how long I spent one evening looking at every. single. bag. on that site.) I’m not really into needing big names and although I saw some gorgeous bags from Kate Spade, Michael Kors, etc., right now I can’t justify $300+ for a bag that isn’t 100% me. I did find about four contenders for Perfect Bag 2011 that were under $175, the max I wanted to spend, so that was a great start. Zappos has free shipping and a great return policy, but I still didn’t want to go overboard, so I finally narrowed it down to two bags.

Lucky Brand Leather Stash Bag in Vintage Brown - $168.00

Fossil Modern Cargo Top Zip in Grey - $78.75

I ordered these last Wednesday, they were on my doorstep on Friday, and I immediately fell in love with the Lucky bag. The leather is a gorgeous, rich brown (and it smells good…what, is that weird that I like to smell my purses?), it’s a great size, and it has some nice stitching details to make it interesting without being weighed down with hardware. I like the Fossil bag alright, but it was touted as a bag with both a shoulder strap and a removable cross-body strap, yet the removable strap is really too short to look right if worn cross-body. And, while the size is perfect and I like the warm grey color, it’s just not all that pretty. Of course it was less than half the price of the Lucky bag, but still, I don’t love it, so it’s heading back to Zappos soon.

I am pretty excited to put all my stuff in my new bag and start carrying it around town. Ah, it’s the simple things in life with me…

Do you have a bag that you love, or are you picturing something in your head that you just can’t seem to find anywhere?

new tunes

I’ve been on a music-buying kick lately. After a while of subsisting solely on Grooveshark and Pandora for my new music fix and wearing out all of the music already in my iTunes, I had enough. It was time to hunker down and invest in a much-needed refresh of my music catalog.

Amazon’s MP3 downloads most often cost less than music on iTunes, but I recently discovered that Amazon also has over 1,000 albums each month that are on sale for $5. Five bucks! And occasionally some for even less (I snagged Florence & The Machine when it was $3.99). They’re good albums, too — not all bottom-of-the-barrel one-hit-wonder albums. Over the last few months I’ve bought all of these for five buckarinos or less:

Florence & The Machine – Lungs
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Adele – 19
Fistful of Mercy – As I Call You Down
Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
Taylor Swift – Speak Now
Sara Bareilles – Kaleidoscope Heart

I also got Lauren Pritchard’s debut album (I posted about her last week) for $7.99. And a Sister Hazel album for free… because it was free, so why not check it out?

You need to download the Amazon MP3 downloader to get your music, but it’s pretty painless and you can set it to have your music automatically added to your iTunes library. I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially never buying music on iTunes again. (Sorry, Apple!)

Do you buy your music from Amazon, iTunes, or somewhere else?

PS, I got nothing from Amazon for posting this, nor did anyone ask me to write it. I genuinely just get really excited by a good deal and I like to share it with you all :)

mint condition

A few years ago I set up an account on Mint.com, but never really took the time to enter ALL of my bank information, credit card accounts and monthly expenses, so it sat kind of useless for a while.

While Nick and I have always shared financial responsibilities since we moved in together, we’ve admittedly been kind of lazy about completely combining our finances to make paying the bills and budgeting a bit more seamless. We have a joint bank account, but we use it only for saving for a house, and instead each have a personal bank account that we’ve always used on a regular basis for expenses, spending, and personal saving. I belong to a credit union that I love, Nick has belonged to the same bank for years, and neither of us ever wanted to switch, so we just stayed where we were. (Have I mentioned that we’re both stubborn Leos?)

I lived in our apartment alone for two years before Nick moved in with me, so I already had BillPayer set up for all of the utilities, which were all in my name; as such, I still just pay for the utilities and rent, and Nick writes me a check (yes, writes me a check!) each month for his half of everything. I pay for our car insurance and he pays for our cell phone plans. We each pay for our own car, and I pay off my student loans. We have separate credit cards that we use and pay off individually from our own accounts.

While it’s been easy to just stick with our old habits that began four years ago, this system is no longer working efficiently for us and it has become increasingly difficult to set goals for saving when our money is still somewhat separate. And, let’s face it: it’s time to stop being lazy. I always want to keep a bank account in my name, and Nick will do the same, but it’s finally time that we sit down and combine our everyday expenses so everything comes from one account. It may take a bit of time, but I’m pretty sure it will be way better than continuing with our current ridiculous setup.

Last week I revisited my Mint.com account and finally finished setting everything up; tonight, we have a hot date online to get Nick’s accounts added so we can see everything in one place, and to figure out how to move money to our joint account accordingly. Hopefully being able to track all of our spending together in one place will help us to make cuts where we need to, and it will allow us to save smarter for our future. While I know we’ll probably never have it together as well as my friend Catherine (seriously, she is my budgeting hero), I’m pretty sure I’ll feel a lot better once we’re all organized.

How do you and your partner share your money?

the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life.

Last week, Nick took me to dinner at Osteria for my birthday. It was a little splurge-y for us considering that we don’t eat out too much these days and when we do, we never get appetizers, dessert, or more than a drink each… so it was a treat to try someplace new (to us) and indulge a bit.

I requested Osteria because I have heard amazing things about their pizza, including Marc Summers (yes, that Marc Summers) naming Osteria’s Margherita the best pizza he’s ever eaten. That’s what I ordered, and it did not disappoint (although I still can’t claim it’s the very best I’ve ever had… I’ve had some good pizza in my day, folks).

Osteria did surprise me with the best dessert I’ve ever had, though. I ordered the sweet ricotta frittelle with raspberry curd, and I’m still a little bitter that I let Nick have any. I have never met a dessert I didn’t like, but this was eye-closing, yummy-noise-making good. Frittelle are basically little deep-fried fritters that look like donut holes, but they are supremely more awesome than any Munchkin I’ve ever had. The raspberry curd was the perfect accent to the sweet ricotta, and I’m pretty sure I was scraping it up off the plate so I didn’t miss any.

not Osteria’s frittelle; image source

They sound simple, but believe me, they were pure heaven. If you’re ever in the area of Osteria, try this dessert and tell me if you like it!

What’s the best dessert you’ve ever had?

good friends

Remember this top that I mentioned loving a few months ago?

I received a little package in the mail yesterday, and to my surprise, my lovely and thoughtful friend Emily had bought it for me! For no reason at all! It was the perfect little pick-me-up for this girl who hasn’t spent much money on cute clothes for herself in a long time. Thanks, Em :)

I love giving gifts for no reason (and receiving them is certainly fantastic, too)… it’s all about paying it forward with the warm fuzzies, ya know?

how to make grocery store flowers look like a million bucks.

Let me begin by saying I greatly admire the work of florists. I do. And I love my mom a lot. But when I’m buying her flowers for Mother’s Day (and living on a budget), I can’t fork over $50 for a pretty bouquet of something that will die in a week. Just. Can’t. Do it.

I have always been a fan of buying grocery store flowers, but of course you don’t get the same beautiful presentation in a Trader Joe’s bouquet as you would with a professional florist’s bouquet. Something about that price tag on plastic secured with a rubber band… just not doin’ it for me. Fortunately, if you’re resourceful, you can make grocery store flowers look like a million bucks in five minutes.

What you’ll need:

  1. grocery store flowers — I bought two bunches of sunflowers from Trader Joe’s ($4.99 per bunch of 5)
  2. brown postal wrap — I’m still working with the 75 square feet ($2.50) I got last Christmas!
  3. scissors — I used pinking shears to add some character with the zigzag effect
  4. ribbon or baker’s twine — I used green and white baker’s twine

Step one:
Remove the store packaging from your flowers and trim the stems (if necessary). Arrange flowers however you’d like and secure your arrangement in place with a piece of twine tied in a bow around the stems.

Step two:
Cut a piece of postal wrap — I cut a piece about the length of the flower stems (from the bottom of the flower buds). Any longer and you won’t be able to see your flowers peeking out when they’re all wrapped up! And, in case you’re like me and can’t cut a straight line, I fold over my paper and crease it where I want to cut it, then follow along that crease with my scissors. Works like a charm.

Step three:
Line your flowers up along one side of your postal wrap (with the cut edge at the top of your bouquet if you used pinking shears). Gently roll your postal wrap with the flowers to the opposite side to create a cone-like shape with the wrap. Make sure the bottom of the wrap is more tapered as you roll it to achieve the desired effect.

Step four:
Wrap a long piece of twine around the middle of your postal wrap a few times and tie a bow.

There you go! Now that looks way better than flowers wrapped in plastic, doesn’t it?

home office mini-makeover, part two

(read part one here)

Once we (and by “we” I mean Nick) got the new curtains up, I was anxious to get my home office fully functional and pretty, to boot. The Ikea in Conshohocken, PA, that is closest to us (where we got all of the pieces for the curtain project) did not have the Skruvsta swivel chair that I wanted, but the Ikea in Philadelphia did. Since I am impatient, my wonderful Nick headed out there the next day to pick it up for me. Isn’t he nice?

Once I had my chair, I got to work really setting up an organized, inspiring and productivity-inducing workspace. Remember what we started with?

Well here’s what we ended up with.

I absolutely love it, and I love sitting down here to work each morning. The natural sunlight flows in all day long (even when I took these pictures it was raining cats and dogs but the room is still bright and cheery without any lights on) and it’s my very own little space.

Here’s a little bit more of my home office.

The view from the kitchen doorway. If Nick is watching tv in the living room while I’m working into the night, I can just close the French doors you see on the right to have a bit more privacy.

Behind my desk sits this beautiful breakfront; it used to live in our old house on Claremont Road (the namesake for this blog), but when my mom sold that house and moved in with my stepdad, he already had a full dining room set. She saved her old dining room set for me (currently it’s in her basement), and the breakfront lives with me now. The top portion holds wine glasses, my grandmother’s China, books and design samples; the drawers on the bottom hold electronic cords, manuals, and discs of archived work. Over the years I’ve tucked tons of photos (mostly of friends’ kids) into the panes on the glass so it doesn’t look like such a formal piece. I look forward to having this in my future dining room someday. (To the right of the breakfront is the doorway to our kitchen.)

I think I bought this bookshelf for $12 in college when I was moving into a house to share with 3 other girls. It currently houses a mix of books that both Nick and I own, as well as a few photos of his grandfather and great uncle.

On top of the bookshelf sits this framed poster, one of the few things I bought when I went to Paris for a long weekend in 2001 during my study abroad trip to London. Les Années Pop was an amazing exhibit at the Musée D’orsay about pop culture.

My MacBook Pro now lives on the desk; I try not to get back in the habit of sitting on the couch with Mac on my lap.

Above my desk sits this cork board with some little things that I like… Operation NICE stickers from my friend Melissa, a letterpress Valentine from the lovely ladies at Orange Beautiful, a handout I got at a Johnny Cupcakes lecture, some sweet letterpress items from designer friends, our 2010 Valentine, a program from our wedding ceremony, a photo of my grandmother as a young woman, fun fortunes from fortune cookies, and old driver’s licenses. (Yes, I’m weird and I like to keep my old driver’s licenses. Am I the only one who does this??)

Next to the cork board is a Yellena print that my brother and sister-in-law gave to me for Christmas (left) and a screen print that I made in college… it’s one of my favorite pieces.

I picked up some fun file folders from Target that sit to the left; in front of that, my Night Owl Paper Goods woodgrain desk calendar and inMotion speaker for listening to ma’ tunes all day long. A few photos and other fun trinkets spruce up the windowsill.

Since the desk is juuuuust short of being wide enough to sit on top of our radiator, the desk actually sits about a foot out from the wall. I rigged up some risers that sit on top of the radiator so my printer and little shelf that holds copy paper don’t take up valuable real estate on my actual desk, but they’re also not melting away on top of the radiator (which doesn’t ever actually get warm enough that it would melt anything, but I’m paranoid like that). My printer is a little HP printer/copier combo that was free with my MacBook Pro 2.5 years ago; I don’t use it for printing jobs since I outsource most of my printing, but it’s a great little printer and copier for day-to-day needs.

Overall, the space makes me super happy, and it didn’t cost much money at all to spruce up; so far, working from home has been a great experience and I have never felt happier. Plus, on days that I don’t have to go anywhere, it’s pretty nice to work in PJs and slippers :)

What does your home office look like? Do you actually use it?

PS, that cool flip-clock screen saver can be downloaded here — just click the floppy disc image on the left and it will guide you to downloading!