Two steps back, two steps forward…

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. ~John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

I bought my mom a pair of Toms for her birthday, right after Christmas. I had sent an email out to the family before the holidays, saying that I would be donating to charity in lieu of gifts (except for the kids…I am not yet willing to be the evil aunt just to maintain my minimalist “cred”). But these were perfect for her – fuzzy, soft, and red, with small white polka-dots. They were fun, just like she is, and too perfect to pass up.

Naturally, I’ve been admiring them every time I see her. I would never buy anything for my mom that I wouldn’t wear myself, and I remembered how comfy they were when I tried them on in the store. I began to have the familiar feeling of rationalizing the purchase of a pair for myself.

My office is in Boston’s Financial District, just steps away from Downtown Crossing – a shopper’s paradise. On my lunch break, I escaped to one of my favorite stores, City Sports. They have a good selection of Toms, and I found a nice Army-green pair that I knew I could wear with almost everything in my closet. I tried them on, and they were exactly as cozy as I had remembered. Toms donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair they sell, which further justified my purchase.

I walked toward the register with my Toms, and ran right into a display of Reef shoes. Hanging next to the flip-flops were a gorgeous pair of flats, covered in a beautiful, rainbow-striped cotton canvas. I stopped to inspect the tag attached to the heel, and was intrigued by what I read. The shoes were made through a collaboration with Nest, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to work with master artisans around the globe, “alleviating poverty, empowering women, and promoting peace.” The fabric was woven by a women’s cooperative in Guatemala that was formed as a result of the civil war in the 1980s, when many of the men were killed, and their widows had to find a way to earn a living.

Long story short, I now have two new pairs of shoes. One might call this a “relapse”, and I do feel a significant amount of guilt for having spent money that I had intended to use for other purposes. But I am determined to continue decreasing my total number of possessions, and so I immediately parted with two pairs of shoes to make up the difference. I also filled a large box with decor and other items that will be heading to our nearby charity thrift shop.

This has made me think a bit more about being a “conscious consumer”…if I do feel the need to go out and buy something, I should at least be seeking out sustainable, earth-friendly, and charitable options like these. Being a bit of a compulsive shopper, I know that I am going to have setbacks like this occasionally, but at least I can be more mindful about where my money is going.

Traveling light

He who would travel happily must travel light. ~Antoine de St. Exupery

A few days ago, I switched to a much smaller handbag. It has been working out incredibly well. It’s so light, yet I’ve got everything I need in there. It got me to thinking about how I might apply some of the things I’ve learned when packing my bags for our trip to Sweden in a couple of months. My husband and I have done well the past few times we’ve taken plane trips, and have avoided checking baggage altogether. This has saved us not only money, but also precious vacation time that we would have spent waiting for our bags to appear (and worrying that they might not appear at all).

I would love to continue this practice when we head to Europe, especially since we will be stopping over in Zurich and that will only increase the odds of our belongings not making it to our destination safely. I realize, however, that a two-week trip to Sweden is a bit tougher to pack for than a 5-day stint in Aruba, or so one would likely believe. For Aruba, I packed mainly swimsuits and sundresses, some shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and one pair of jeans. What more could you possibly need for a beautiful Caribbean getaway?

Fortunately, we have a few things going for us that may help us to pack less than we normally would. For one, we will be going during midsummer, when the days are longest and the weather will be pretty nice. We don’t have to worry about bundling up for an icy cold Scandinavian winter. Also, we will be staying with family, so we will likely have some access to washing machines when the need is dire. Staying with family also means I might be able to borrow an item or two of clothing should an occasion arise that I didn’t adequately plan for, though I’m hoping I can make do with what I have.

I figure the earlier I start planning, the less likely I am to over-pack at the last minute, when I’m prone to panicking about leaving something vital at home. I’ve never been one to write up packing lists or really think too hard about what items truly deserve a spot in my suitcase, but perhaps it’s time I started.

Right off the top of my head, I know I’m going to bring the following:

  • White sundresses (one short, one full-length)
  • A couple of my favorite super-thin, soft T-shirts
  • A couple tank tops
  • One pair of jeans
  • One or two pairs of shorts
  • Yoga pants
  • A long linen skirt
  • A cardigan or thin sweater
  • One pair of sandals
  • One pair of walking shoes

We are planning on trying to visit a Crossfit box in Stockholm while we’re there, so I’ll need to bring at least one workout-appropriate outfit. If I bring my Chucks, those will do fine for that, and for wearing when we’re out and about. All of that should fit comfortably in a carry-on sized suitcase. I will probably bring some very basic toiletries, toothbrush, hairbrush, and makeup (thank goodness for my travel-friendly Bare Minerals!), but will be leaving out stuff like shampoo, body wash, and moisturizers…these are things I can pick up easily and cheaply once we arrive. I won’t be bringing a blow drier, especially since I’d need a special adapter to use it overseas. Besides, I can’t even imagine spending an hour blowing hot air at my head when I could be enjoying my vacation!

I’m really looking forward to visiting my family, and meeting some of them for the first time. It’s been 18 years since my last trip to Sweden, and I have been trying to get back there for a very long time. I can’t wait to enjoy all of the simple pleasures my mother’s home country has to offer…Swedes really have the minimalist thing down, and I intend to absorb as much as I can while I’m there. Perhaps, instead of souvenirs, I will return home with a better understanding of what I really need in order to live a happy life.

With mom in Dalarna.

Mom and me in Dalarna. Simpler times, for sure!