The Lose-Lose Choice of Living in an American City or Suburb

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Growing up, I considered myself a “city person.”

In retrospect, I now realize that translated to “I don’t know what to do with myself when there aren’t people and businesses surrounding me.” Then, when I did go to the city, the first thing I did was find a major shopping street, and let my pop culture insecurity-induced consumerist desires come to life. Ok – that’s not quite the truth – in reality I have so little awareness of pop culture (I become pretty clueless when people start talking about famous actors and other celebrities) that its impact on me is pretty minimal. But the part about finding a major shopping street is true. As a kid who stayed at home 99% of the time, I racked up plenty of insecurities over time and never quite figured out how to deal with them, and buying my way out was a coping mechanism that I had to get rid of. The idea of minimalism and simple living in classic keeping up with the Jones’s environment was not a concept I was ever really exposed to until much later.

I admit, cities have perks I enjoy immensely. Infrastructure is wayfarer-friendly, which means stores and services can be easily accessed without a car. There are more festivities and public events. There are more career and networking opportunities. The social scene is more diverse. Simply put, the availability of human beings you can interact with is just greater. It is tiring, though, especially as an introvert, to be out and about all the time. Fortunately, introverts can experience not-being-entirely-a-hermit by mingling in the city, with the option of talking to others.

At the same time, city-living has its limitations. It’s expensive. Really, really expensive, for some cities. You’re paying a major premium for the privilege of being in the middle of the action, and for some, it all gets old as priorities change. Approaching 30, my city-dwelling friends are starting to reach typical home-buying and family-rearing age, and more and more of them are starting to leave the city in favor of buying a home with a lawn and hosting large parties and barbecues on a back door patio.

This is where it gets tricky.

I have mixed feelings about suburbia. Or at least, the suburbs I’ve been to.

First of all, its ludicrous that every single American family is expected to own their own huge private dwelling – do we really need to eat up that much land and resources to support our already rich lifestyles? America is a huge country, with not great rail infrastructure. Thus, it was built on the premise that the vast majority of its inhabitants owned cars. And so, chances are, you are driving your car everywhere. To the grocery store. To the daycare. To Target. To the gym. To the yoga studio (I guess to make up for the stress of driving there??). To your kids’ dance practice. To the theatre. To work. All that time spent driving is time not spent walking, or cycling, or doing something else remotely active. So of course, we start losing our health, unless we become gym rats or runners, which is pretty difficult if you’re tired and run-down all that driving (it’s not exactly an energizing activity). Exercise and moving around is just not built into suburb life. Sitting on the couch, driving everywhere, and sitting at restaurants/movies/offices is, well, fattening. At night, walk around any neighborhood in a middle-class suburb and you’ll probably be 1. The only person walking and 2. See lots of flickering TV screens in the windows.

Ideally, being active should be easily baked into the day. We buy all sorts of fancy equipment for our houses, hoping that dropping that money will motivate us to work out. But it doesn’t help that suburbs are ill-equipped to handle bicycles. All sorts of sidewalk-riding routes (too dangerous to ride on the road, so the next best choice is riding on the sidewalk) and disappearing sidewalks (sidewalks that just “end”) next to 45-mph speed limit roads and the absence of bike racks at strip malls are not conducive to bicycle riding. Everything being so spread out makes it so the grocery store and the school are too far apart to realistically walk to.

So when I ask myself the question of whether or not I am a city person, I have to be frank: it’s hard to say. Neither is great. As a minimalist, I think I have an overall dissatisfaction with both. I don’t want to be surrounded by advertisements and businesses wanting money, and I certainly don’t like high costs of living. At the same time, I don’t want to be too far from people in general – feeling connected to our communities is a basic human need. I feel like I have this dream of living in a city like Copenhagen, where bicycles rule the road, people value their health, and the community is in god spirits.

Fortunately, there is hope – millennials in Seattle have recently reversed the trend – car ownership is finally starting to decline, thanks to the uptick in people cycling, car-sharing, or public transportation. For our health and for our environment, I look forward to a future where we are not boxed into car ownership should we choose not to live in an expensive city.

5 Easy Minimalist Kitchen Hacks to Simplify Food Prep for Home Cooking

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The home goods and food service industries always seem to be trying to find ways to make home cooking easier, because well…we don’t have time for cooking, just like we don’t have time to see friends, spend time with our children, clean the house…but we have time to follow enough pop culture via shows and junk news stories to win at trivia bars. Millennial joke aside, our overscheduled and overbusy lives are cutting into food preparation time, and simply put, a lot of us simply don’t have the patience, not to mention the experience and know-how required from putting time into cooking our own meals. With so many convenience options available, cooking from scratch takes a back seat. Hungry? Grab a Snickers. Want to lose weight? Grab a Weight Watchers box and zap it in the handy dandy microwave. Want to cut vegetables perfectly or store them optimally? How about a plastic device to perfectly slice your [insert produce here] or store your [insert produce here]?

I suffer from a constant need to optimize my lifestyle habits, and I discovered a few useful tips and tricks along the way as I managed my kitchen. As someone who loves cooking, I have been suckered into the brilliant marketers that sell devices that are supposed to save you time in the kitchen…but end up taking up space and being impossible to clean sometimes.

Fortunately, after quite a few years of making my way in the kitchen from a minimalist viewpoint, here are 5 original ways to simplify your kitchen prep time that I’ve discovered from simple trial and error.

  1. Salad spinners are a magical tool. Not only will they get all the excess water out of your leafy greens so your stir fries don’t turn into sludge, but they are also really good at washing things and contain the splashy mess of water. As in, tear up your greens, chuck them in the basket, fill it with water, and either agitate the greens with your hands or spin the basket as if you were spinning the water out! Then just lift the basket, dump the water, and repeat until the water is clear and has no dirt. I can recommend this one. Also related – get a pot with an inset steamer, and steam your vegetables instead of boiling them to a sad wilt. It will do double duty as a colander to drain pasta. Now you can get rid of that extra plastic colander.top-view-1248955_1920
  2. Don’t peel off individual leaves or stalks from cabbage/lettuce heads and celery – get a sharp knife and cut everything all at once. Mother nature has wonderfully grouped all the stalks for us for easy, fast cutting. While washing your vegetables makes them rot faster, you’ll still save yourself some time down the line by cutting them in advance. You’ll only need to bust out the cutting board and knife once. And how nice it is to have your vegetables prepped and ready to go next time you’re cooking!

    via Pixabay

    Just cut it and then wash it after it’s cut. In your salad spinner, obviously.

  3. Someone’s gotta say it – but I found that limiting my meat intake has saved me a lot of time in the kitchen. I am not vegetarian, but I find that meat is very time consuming to prepare, and while it is tasty, it is also expensive and requires a lot of extra precautions and prep time. When you add up all the work you need to do to flavor it, cut it, store it, and sterilize everything it has come in contact with, meat can be its own time suck (of course, there’s always the option of buying it pre-seasoned or pre-cooked, but then again, we all know that eating processed meats in moderation is better for us, and pre-prepped meat costs more). Soy is a great plant-based complete protein, and a block of organic firm tofu is only $1.99 at my local Whole Foods (might be even cheaper at Asian markets!). Tofu can be crumbled as a substitute for taco meat or used in vegan omelette recipes. Tofu acts as a sponge and soaks up the flavors and sauces in whatever you’re making. Eggs are also a great, cheap protein source. I usually eat meat a few times a week instead of every day.DSC_0914 copy
  4. Use a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or the tablespoon size of these babies (which is basically a melon baller) to scoop out the flesh of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, or basically anything else with a thick rind. Less juice spilling all over your counter and evenly sized bite-sized balls of fruit for all!

    Delicious melon-balled watermelon via my Instagram

  5. If you have a double basin sink, ditch the dish drying rack and simply get one of these drying mats. I was inspired by Scandinavian kitchens when I visited Iceland where the sinks had built-in dish drying areas. Drying racks are unsightly and over time accumulate a lot of grime. You can put a cutting board over it and even cut vegetables on top of it – the water that tends to pool while I’m cutting things drains directly into the sink!DSC_0913 copy

What other kitchen hacks can you add to the list? I’d love to hear them!

Decluttering Furniture

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To me, furniture is the most satisfying category of stuff I can declutter. It’s so freeing to finally unload a heavy, bulky item from your living space and give your home some breathing room. I’m of the belief that less is more, but especially so with furniture. We worry about making our rooms look “homey,” so it’s tempting to fill our havens with lots of fancy furniture. This often leads to our rooms becoming cramped if our efforts get out of hand.

Since the amount of furniture in your living space is dependent on your living arrangements, it’s important to understand that everyone’s situation is unique. I am unmarried without family, and I live in a two bedroom condo unit which is just the right amount of space – not too much space that I need to clean and not too little that I feel cramped.  It has a small kitchen, a dining/living area, and a small bathroom with just enough room for a bathtub, toilet, and sink.  One of the bedrooms has a closet and the other bedroom has two closets. There is a linen closet by the bathroom and a coat closet. I also have a storage locker in the basement where I can store bikes (but I do not store extra furniture there). In other words, I already have a lot of shelf space and closet space. The smaller bedroom is usually occupied by a roommate, so I will not count the furniture in that room as it varies when roommates switch.

With that in mind, these are the furniture items I currently own (the below are not affiliate links).

  1. 2 couches (1 3-seater and 1 2-seater) (inherited from family – not at all fancy, but do the job)
  2. 1 platform bed (this particular one comes with built-in nightstands)
  3. 1 rolling coffee table – I tried to do without one for a while
  4. 1 console table
  5. 1 rolling tv table
  6. 1 round dining table
  7. 4 stackable plastic dining chairs (plastic = easy to clean!)
  8. 2 folding chairs (for guests)
  9. 1 standing desk
  10. 1 rolling C-table

One theme you’ll see from the list above is my tendency to buy furniture with casters. Casters make furniture moving so easy. I love CB2’s “peekaboo” acrylic pieces because they don’t take up much visual space, making my rooms look bigger than they are (and making it easier to find things in general – no need to look underneath a table if it’s transparent!).

These are the furniture items I’ve decluttered:

  1. Ottoman – in a small space, ottomans take up too much floor space. I ended up needing to move it around all the time until I finally decided it wasn’t worth keeping.
  2. Dresser – after decluttering my closet, I happily got rid of my dresser. Behold my suddenly spacious bedroom! There are so many ways to optimize closet space. Since all of my clothes are stored in one place, I only have to check that one place to find something I want to wear.
  3. Extra chairs that don’t fold – another space saver!
  4. Side tables – typically they are just space hogs. I have my rolling C table in case I’m in need it extra table space.
  5. 2 small couches or loveseats – I had two darling couches from my antiquing days. They ended up looking dated and out of place in my modern space, so I sold them on Craigslist.
  6. 2 twin beds with mattresses and box springs, which I replaced with a single queen bed.
  7. Extra card table – the dining table does the trick. If I’m entertaining, I can put food on the kitchen counter instead of the dining table. Fewer spaces to wipe down, and fewer items to store.

Must you need more inspiration?

via Pixabay

Open kitchen and dining area – an example of how empty walls actually open up a room

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Just like my bedroom – a sanctuary that is simply a place of rest

Pixabay

If only my bathroom was this big…but even if it was, why fill it with stuff? It’s so serene the way it is.

Extra floor space – yes, please.