I love rugs, but I'm not one to have a whole bunch of small rugs thrown around a small space. It can look cluttered and can also be a tripping hazard, especially in the bedroom when we're walking around half asleep. One large rug that sits under the bottom two-thirds of your bed and allows room on each side for you to step on is optimal. It anchors the bed nicely so that it's pleasing to the eye and automatically inspires a feeling of warmth and serenity. Plus, it's practical since it keeps your tootsies from touching the cold floor first thing in the morning. Choose one that's soft and comforting underfoot.
I think it must be this time of year - the smell of Spring in the air, the longer days, the warm sunshine beginning to melt the mountains of snow... this feeling of gratitude washed over me this week, and I feel truly alive and invigorated once again. It put everything into perspective for me, after struggling a bit with anxiety lately. It centered me once again, and I feel calm and optimistic and "well" again, just like that.
Gratitude can really do wonders for your whole day and your whole life, can't it? It's truly the only thing that will ever make us happy. And more gratitude just continues to bring more happiness. It can create space in our minds and hearts; it can stop stress and worry and anxiety in its tracks; it can diminish our Ego and elevate our Being.
The practice of gratitude as a key element in living well has been known since the beginning of time; every religion is based on it and almost every philosopher has guided us to it. And yet we still need reminders to keep doing it, unless we make it a habit. It shouldn't take the advent of Spring or a traumatic event or witnessing someone's else's pain to jolt us into being grateful. If we do it mindfully on a daily basis, everything - the world - will open up for us.
There is no right or wrong way to practice gratitude - it may be writing little notes to loved ones, journaling, praying, mindful walks in nature, or simply saying 'thank-you' to someone every day. The key word, though, is PRACTICE. Just like with anything, the more you do it, the easier and more automatic it becomes. You just need to discover what works for you and do it daily.
And so I share with you these articles and a few other fun and useful tools and links in the hope that they will help you find a way to cultivate gratitude daily, and make more space to be mindfully aware of all of the wonderful things around you that you have to be grateful for.
1. Last year I wrote about How to Cultivate Gratitude at Home with 5 things you can do at home to spark the gratitude habit.
2. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand, and so if you need help being more mindful of things around you to be grateful for, here's a Meaningful Mindfulness Guide for Beginners.
3. A dedicated space for meditation and gratefulness can help. Check out How to Create a Simple Home Meditation Space.
4. Gratitude helps with living more in the present, and this article, 4 Steps to Letting Go of the Past can help you understand how.
5. This enlightening article on the 7 Dimensions of Wellness was forwarded to me by a friend this week and the dimension of Spiritual Wellness includes feeling grateful, and is a big part of holistic wellness.
6. It's Not Just About What You Say, It's About How You Live is a short and interesting article about how our behaviour and even gestures are all part of a gratitude practice.
7. I've been using the Calm app for guided meditation and even just for calming nature background sounds lately. It's wonderful.
8. My favourite new artist - Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People - make me grateful for music and talent and my hearing and many other things. Take a listen to Aloha Ke Akua and Budding Trees...two of many great songs.
9. This post I wrote a few years back still resonates with me when I think about how Home is Where the Heart Is.
A frequently asked question from clients: how do I make a builder-basic bathroom unique?
Actually, there are a few easy ways to do this, and they make all the difference in the world, and often don't cost that much because in such a small room, you don't have to use much for material. Tilework, a floating or vintage vanity, a beautiful framed mirror, and unique lighting will amp up a basic bathroom without spending a fortune.
In a small space, I like a floating vanity with open space underneath. As long as there are drawers for storage, it's functional yet gives an open feeling. I'm also a big fan of using a furniture piece for a vanity and forgoing the big-box cabinets that look the same in every home. Consider finding a vintage dresser or shelving unit at an auction or antique market.
via House Beautiful
Tiling doesn't have to be the expensive glass kind. Inexpensive subway tile is 100% more interesting than drywall. And choose an inexpensive by reallly interesting floor tile or linoleum - a fun pattern makes all the difference in a small bathroom to give it interest and personality.
Interesting light sconces on the sides, along with a cute hanging light overhead will provide great light where you need it and make a 'wow' impact.
Finally, adding a few extra touches, like a gold-framed mirror and faucet are easy upgrades that make a big statement.
In a small room like a bathroom, these upgrades don't add much extra cost to the budget, but they have a big return on investment. Aren't they worth a little extra effort?
Slow home design is the principle of slowing down to design homes and spaces that are sustainable, practical and functional. The slow home movement was founded in Calgary by John Brown, Carina van Olm and Matthew North as a response to the poor design practices that have pervaded the mass housing industry the past few decades. It encompasses many ideas on how to live more sustainably - from LEED certification to the simple positioning of windows - and for for those of us who aren't able to build new or renovate from the ground up, it's a concept we can embrace by simply looking for ways to make our homes more efficient, easier to maintain, and better for our overall wellbeing.
Back when I lived in Calgary from 2010-12 I leaped at the chance to take weekend in-studio workshops and courses from Slow Home Studio. Brown, Olm and North lay out 12 Steps to a Slow Home and teach designers and builders to strive for a more “considered, calm and intuitive” approach to residential design. The concept is to use well-considered design principles to create smaller homes that will be environmentally sustainable, continue to meet the needs of homeowners over time, and are built to endure.
Brown says in an interview with The Chicago Tribune that a slow home is:
"reasonably sized and carefully designed to support its occupants. It might have an entry where family members can easily take off their boots, stash their keys and store their backpacks, for example. It might have a living space that encourages people to talk or read, not just watch television or surf the Internet. It's energy efficient, filled with natural light and designed for easy flow among rooms and access to the outside."
North continues the explanation in an interview with The Calgary Herald:
"I think the boom of the big-house era is coming to an end. So those houses will be less desirable and valuable as time goes on," North says . . . Expect a shift to smaller, more energy-efficient homes, North says, and a move away from homes on the fringes of cities. A decade ago, a 5,000-sq.-ft. home sounded like a dream to some. These days, that much square footage "sounds like a noose around your neck. There's uncertainty about the energy cost to heat your house."
These principles and 12 steps make a lot of sense to me, and really, most of them are common sense. But in this age of building fast and big and cheap and decorating according to the latest blog trends, common sense often goes out the window. That's why I love the idea of building, renovating and designing slowly. Because when you slow down to really understand what you need from your home, how you will use it, and how to make it work better for you, you'll end up with a space that's easy, happy, restful, relaxing, welcoming, and cost-efficient. Yes, it is possible, even if you aren't able to start from scratch.
Over the last years I've taken the concepts I've learned from the slow home movement and used them in my own houses and apartments and with clients. I always put function, wellbeing, and sustainability first, then layer in elements that make a space beautiful and meaningful. These are often just small things that any of us can do with small or large budgets (and sometimes without any budget at all).
Do I struggle with finishing a project slowly? Yes, definitely. I'm not one to live in unfinished chaos for long - it makes me come undone myself. However, I do think that a space evolves slowly over time, so while I decorate with what I have now and keep things organized and "finished", my spaces are never actually finished because I continue to infuse them with new finds from flea markets, new artwork or photographs of something that makes me smile, and more comfortable and eco-friendly furnishings as I'm able to save up for them.
So if you like this idea of creating a slow home - even in your existing home without much money to spend - here are some easy and practical ideas.
1. Think about how you use every room in your home.
Are there spare bedrooms that you haven't been in since the kids flew the coop? Use them for something that's meaningful to you and will help you flourish - perhaps a yoga room or a painting studio. Or close them up, turn off the heat and never waste another minute dusting them again.
2. Let in the light.
While you may not be able to locate your existing home so it best takes advantage of the sun, you can make sure you open up your windows to let in as much light as possible. If you have curtains that are blocking light, remove the rods and hang them higher and wider than the windows, so that the curtain panels hang outside of the casings when opened during the day. Place mirrors on walls opposite your windows to bounce more light around the room. Oh, and give your windows a good cleaning - it's amazing how much a little outdoor dirt can diffuse light entering your home.
3. Strive for sustainability.
Consider upgrading taps, showerheads and your toilet to water-friendly options to conserve as much as possible for our planet and communities. The sources for this design board for an eco-friendly bathroom are here.
4. Make your entryway functional.
This is a must for easy, happy living. There's nothing more frustrating than piles of boots and bags in the entry to trip over, and never being able to find your keys. No matter what your entry size - create a space for essentials that include hooks, a small stool or bench, baskets or bins to catch mittens, boots, etc., a mirror, and a shelf or console table with a bowl to keep keys, sunglasses, etc. This post on 5 Essentials for Small Entryways gives you more details and inspiration.
5. Organize your kitchen to make it easy to be healthy.
Have a windowsill or shelf in the window to grow your own organic herbs. Put your dry goods into large jars so you can see them easily, and take them to the bulk store to fill up sustainably. Have healthy snacks front and centre. Create a drink station on the counter so that everything for coffee, tea, and smoothies is at your fingertips.
6. Take back your spaces for actually living the way you want to, not the way you give in to.
Hide your TV or at least place it so it's not the focal point of your living room, and arrange the furniture to accomodate more conversation and games with the whole family. Actually use the dining room for family meals by having a large table, comfy seating and good lighting in that room. Or if you really won't ever use it, ditch the table and use the space for something more meaningful.
7. Make your bedroom an oasis.
Declutter your bedroom and make it a calm place to unwind and get a good sleep. Remove the TV and other electronics. Clear your nightstand so you have room for just a good book, a good light and a little bowl to toss your watch into. More ideas for a simple, healthy bedroom and nightstand here.
8. Get control of your bathroom and simplify it.
First, make sure it promotes healthy living by swapping out the plastic vinyl shower curtain for a PEVA or organic cotton/linen one, and use natural air fresheners and cleaners. Next, clean off your counters and organize your toiletries, cosmetics and appliances into separate drawers or baskets so everything has it's own place and you never have to waste time searching for things when you need them. This post outlines seven simple steps on setting up the perfect master bathroom.
9. Organize, simplify and declutter on a regular basis.
Don't hang onto things that just get in the way, take time to dust and clean, or just plain aren't useful or bring you joy. A slow home is filled only with practical, functional, meaningful and beautiful things that you truly enjoy and use.
10. Decorate slowly with meaningful things.
Take time to find, restore, and collect things that will make your home beautiful in a way that's unique and special to you. Frame photos that tell your story, or mementos from places you've been. Clean up your grandparent's antique treasures if they bring back good memories. Search for the right sofa that you'll want to sink into every evening and forget your worries.
Slow design and slow decorating may mean that your home doesn't look like it was pulled straight from a store catalog, but I think that's a good thing. Because it will be personal, and it will help you live your best life. It will be sustainable, both for the environment and for you as you move through different stages and have different needs. A slow home will inspire slow and intentional living, and if you're anything like me, that feels like a really good way to live.
I often write about simple living, slowing down and why we should stop glorifying being busy. In fact previous posts about the cost of being busy and how to stop being busy and start being productive lay out reasons why I think too many people are scheduling too many activities in their lives in an attempt to live up to social norms or avoid being alone with themselves. Many people seem to always be in 'motion' but their 'actions' are not always purposeful. Existentialists would say they are fleeing themselves by blindly following social conventions and throwing themselves into the busyness of contemporary society. Life then becomes a series of disjointed events and distractions without direction or meaningful action.
But after chatting about this with my brother, he suggested that I might be being reckless in putting a negative spin on being busy when some people might thrive in those conditions. Many ambitious people naturally operate at a high frequency and like to be busy all the time, and they achieve great results and are happiest when doing so. In fact, our parents have always found joy in being busy and continuously working hard, whether for money or just keeping an old home in good repair or tending a huge vegetable garden every year. They've always believed that the mind needs something productive to focus on every day, and so keeping busy with tasks is healthy for them and they enjoy it.
"A person can't find themselves 'too busy' if everything they do has value in it for them," he said. "They can be busy with work, kids, preparing food, enjoying entertainment, sharing time with others, or providing opportunities for people who depend on them. If they value what they're doing (ie. it aligns with their true values) they'll always be engaged and energized. If they're engaged in life they'll always be busy, but they'll never wear down."
He feels it could be dangerous to make a blanket statement that being busy is a bad thing because it's when people feel like they shouldn't be busy or feel guilty for their ambition that things begin to break down. They begin to feel stressed and anxious. They lose the wind in their sails and their pride takes a hit. And ultimately so does their contribution to the world.
Fair enough. So being busy isn't problematic. It's living a too-busy life that you don't value that brings trouble like mental and physical health problems. Also, being too busy is an internal problem, not an external one. When we assess our activities and figure out what is essential to the life we want to live, we can be busy with the right things. And so after this conversation, I realized I wouldn't want to make anyone who is busy and feeling energized from it feel like they shouldn't be doing what they're doing. Indeed, more power to you and may you continue being in flow!
In fact, I've come to realize that my own desire for being less busy and my perception of simple living has changed. I intentionally stopped being so busy a couple of years ago when I decided to quit my traditional 9-5 job and do my own thing. I moved back to my hometown for a slower pace of life and to allow my creativity to flourish by offering design services and writing about design and simple living full-time. I gave myself the flexibility to declutter my calendar and have more time for myself and what I wanted to do. It's been great, and I've grown tremendously since making that decision. But here's the thing: I've also found myself missing being busy.
When I was busy with a full-time career and a part-time hustle I enjoyed working with colleagues who challenged me. The high energy helped me generate ideas and bring them to life. I thrived on having a purpose outside of myself. I capitalized on a momentum that led to good work not only in my 9-5 gig but also in my side hustle and relationships and helping others. I was in flow. I just perhaps didn't realize it because I was struggling against it, and didn't achieve the right balance in all areas of my life.
And so recently I've gone back to work. I'm consulting part-time using the skills I learned in my past career and still working the rest of the time on my own creative business and pursuits. It's a good balance and I'm enjoying the benefits of being busy again, instead of worrying about the costs of percieved "unhealthy busyness". I have a feeling of self-accomplishment and purpose each day, which has lead to greater confidence. I've also been stretching my mind again, and it's brought new inspiration and clarity to all of my work. And of course, there's the benefit of financial gains, which takes enormous pressure off and allows me to enjoy my creative projects even more.
I'm in no way saying that we should all work 14-hour days and not take vacations. I'm still a big believer in taking the time to get to know yourself, your values and your inner purpose. I still feel we need to strike the right balance of work, home, health and play, and that we do better when we allow a little bit of stillness into our lives every day. But if we do these things and align our busyness with the essential activities that are valuable and purposeful, engagement in life - and happiness - will surely follow.
"To be perfect is to develop expanding imperfection". ~ Ethylios
Perfection is nearly impossible to reach. The ideal is wonderful to strive for and be inspired by, but feeling like we've never "achieved" that ideal can deflate us and make us feel unworthy. What's even more depressing is that we've missed the beauty in the imperfection along the way.
I love Pinterest-perfect spaces and beautiful blog before-and-afters as much as the next homebody, but I'm drawn most to those that are imperfect and interesting. After all, people aren't perfect, so why would we try to make the homes we live in perfect? They should be a reflection of us, with all of our beautiful and alluring imperfections.
Take, for example, this mirror that my brother made for me years ago. It's one of my most treasured things, because it's perfectly imperfect, and it was made with love. The barn boards are weathered, and there are flaws and cracks which make it even better. Don't you think it's much more interesting than a store-bought perfect mirror?
Here's another example: I love cutting boards, tin cans and bowls. I displayed them in my kitchen so that they can be functional and make me smile every time I see them. The old tin holds tea, and the funny little salt and pepper shakers were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law after their family visited me and we went to MarineLand. These things sit on an old piece of driftwood. Maybe not a new and perfect kitchen, but one that brings so much joy and functions well at the same time.
Real life can be messy, hurried and stressful. And so I'm of the opinion that aiming for a home that's simple, relaxing, and calm is the primary goal - not expensively designed and decorated to perfection.
The room I use for my office-studio didn't have doors on the closets. And closets are where I store real life clutter. They needed doors. But I didn't want the cheap closet doors from the big-box store, nor did I have the money for expensive beautiful doors. So I asked my dad and brother to make these ones from scrap lumber and painted them white. Their imperfection is stunning, functional and meaningful to me.
My Mom's guest room is certainly not perfect, with wonky walls, an old tile ceiling and no budget for a refresh. So we made do with what we had: salvaged barn boards from my grandparents' old farmhouse and an old dresser and iron bed of my Mom's that were left out in the garage for years. We brought them in, cleaned them up and added soft touches like pillows, a natural jute rug and a throw. Aged beauty indeed.
My bedroom was painted blue already, probably not a colour I would have chosen myself, but I embraced it and made it work with the furniture I already had. The vintage nightstand was a '60's laquered mess that I painted and wallpapered (as seen here). There was no overhead light in the room, and I didn't have funds to purchase an expensive 'perfect' lamp, so I used a hanging socket and cord and hung it on a piece of old barnboard. The result is a beautifully imperfect room.
My previous small condo had just a tiny space in the living room to set up a little home office. Not the perfect scenario, but I made it work and found it beautifully inspiring. An old barn board provides a sunny spot for plants and collections. I kept the space simple with a white monocrhomatic look and bits of colour through plants, flowers and home-made art.
Life takes balance, and so does building a home that lets you thrive. Trying to create the picture-perfect home is not sustainable - to our wallets, the planet or our mental health. Let's give up this idea of having perfectly styled homes and embrace beautiful imperfection and the unique and interesting life that comes with them. A home that's unique and meaningful will be one you're happy in for the long haul.