And of course she's more than welcome here too!
There are less of us in this house most days lately, and it suddenly feels waaay too big. (I'm not sure why smaller houses are so hard to find.) I've never wanted to have a spare room to fill...to heat or cool...to live into. We don't need a sewing room, a guest room or an office. But an empty room is just too sad, so a few collected bits + pieces (gathered from other rooms) are bringing a little life to this space that has embraced so much of one particular, precious life. I'm going to try to keep this space quiet + contemplative...a space for stretching into ourselves...moving deliberately...breathing deeply.
And of course she's more than welcome here too!
Every so often I check in with the systems I use in order to reassess how they are working for me + my values. We're half way through the year + a few of our circumstances have changed in recent months...so this is a good time for one of those check-ins.
It's always important for me to revisit my values as they relate to each system. It can be helpful to revisit the space in my journal where I've recorded these values...but first I like to write them again from my thoughts. I may think of something that I haven't written or thought of before...but mainly thinking through them again is a great way to cement them in my mind...to recall what is important to me + to reiterate that importance to myself. When it comes to food, I value local, organic, zero-waste, nourishing, delicious, whole foods.
When I find that I've fallen short of these values, I feel guilt + frustration with myself. I try to think of ways to avoid whatever has led me to fall short in the future. The systems I set up for myself create frameworks for "success" + eliminate the need to rethink how I do things with each grocery trip or meal prep time.
A few of the ways that I've shifted my food system in recent months include:
It's helpful for me to see all of these shifts in one place. It lets me realize that I have made progress in setting myself up for success. It also allows me to recognize that each one of these shifts is a kindness to myself. I'll often smile + say "thank you" to myself (yup, for real) for having put my bags in the car...or for having a whole meal prepared in the fridge. Saying "thank you" to ourselves is kindness too. :)
A while back we did some experiments with less in the kitchen. This post was meant to go along with those, but I love this collection of kitchen photos...so I'll just put it here, k? :)
There is a reason I didn't put these images up at the beginning of our experiments with less in the kitchen. I really wanted us to focus on what we have...on our own thoughts + feelings. It's easy to get hung up on that wall I've always wanted to demolish or the flooring I dislike, when I look at pictures of other kitchens. But the walls + the flooring I have are "enough".
When we look at particularly inspiring pictures of anything...clothing, haircuts or homes...it's helpful to focus in on what we are drawn to in particular. My hair may not have the texture to pull off what I see in a photo. My budget may not accommodate that wall removal, but I can be drawn to the uncluttered countertops in one photo or the open shelving in another. By noting specific elements, I can take inspiration + make it work with what I have in my space + my budget + in my own way.
When I show my inspiration photos to my partner, I sometimes forget to point out exactly what I'm drawn to. He might ask if I want that sort of table or chair...when I've completely cut those out of my consciousness. I'm solely focused on the size of the window.
The photos above may do nothing for others, but most of us will come across photos that do inspire us. There are times when I'm scrolling along + one photo stops me in my tracks. It might take me a moment to figure out exactly what I'm feeling drawn to, but then it dawns on me...it's the colors...or the clean lines...or the way the shapes play off of one another. I like to take notice + take note. This practice can help us to create spaces that feel just right for us.
All lovely photos via links.
I can't remember how I first came across minimalism, in part because I've always been drawn to simplicity. I was often drawn to the simplest manifestations of a style. I was incredibly drawn to shabby chic style...and it was these images from Rachel Ashwell's first book that I connected with the most. My favorite was the image of that couch with the simplest of lines (no loose cushions) + the simple white denim slipcover. I tried this look out for myself, when I made similar slipcovers for two secondhand chairs we had at the time.
I was drawn to the lists minimalists made of things that they had + didn't have. I imagined not duplicating their lists, but what would be on my own list. And then, I had the ultimate chance to try it out, when we moved overseas. I let so many of the things I'd treasured go, and had the opportunity to observe how that made me feel.
After another overseas move, I decided to explore what having fewer clothes would feel like and dressed with less...one month at a time. Here again, I had the chance to observe the changes happening in my thinking. It was exciting.
I've been reminded lately that it is possible to just read about philosophies and ideas...to discuss them...and even to teach them...without ever experiencing them for ourselves. The most learned scholar has not yet opened all doors to knowledge, if he has not yet put his studied philosophy into action. Just a little nudge to experiment...to experience.
It often happens that I don't really think about our garden until it is too late to plant a spring garden or to start tomato or peppers from seed. I'm ok with it. We happily support local farmers' efforts + enjoy all the spring goodness anyway. I don't put too much pressure on myself to do all the things or to get anything perfect. But...this year I did happen to think of my garden in February...and I did something about it.
I didn't spend a whole lot of time considering the best way to do things, but I did trust the knowledge that I've gained over the years (which gives me the courage to try new things too). Instead I made quick decisions + bought seeds. I also bought a calendar book that I'm dedicating solely to the garden...in order to implement a system...in order to make next time less daunting + to have something to rely on. I chose the simplest book that I could record everything I need into...one month per spread. I thought that seeing the whole month at once would be helpful. The less information I record, the easier it will be to reuse..and the more likely I will be to reuse it.
I'm not really concerned that next year the first will be on a Tuesday instead of a Monday. The first week of April will be the same no matter the date.
Similar to my menu system, I want to minimize the start-up effort that induces dread when considering a task. My notebook will have rough dates for when to buy seeds...how + when to start them (including what supplies I need)...when to plant various things...and what extra things to think about when (including compost application, bed repair and rain barrel installation). Since all of this depends on our region, it is helpful work to have done + recorded.
The key will be to look at this calendar each month. I wrote into my regular planner to look at the garden calendar on the first of each month + to fill in key tasks + considerations.
I added a pocket in the back for empty seed packets. These have lots of information on them (like when the seeds should emerge) and remind me exactly what I bought.
Again, flexibility is key in the garden. One week of rain turned into two right when I should have been planting my spring seeds. The ground was soggy + waterlogged for days after that, so we were a little late in planting. Oh, well. We'll see what happens + appreciate the hard work we did to try. I'll keep watering our little tomato and pepper plants. We'll see what thrives and what doesn't. It's ok. We all tried our best.
It feels good to have committed to planting some possibility...to tend it...to have hope in the future. We planted bok choy, radishes, spinach and beets. We weeded the beds and cleaned leaves + debris from the strawberry plants. Pollinator + butterfly seed mixes were planted for the birds, bees and butterflies we hope to see again soon. Possibility looms + we wait with humble expectation. It feels good to hope.
Indecision is not my usual mode. I (usually) know what I like + I (usually) trust my instincts. This year, however, I've noticed that indecision has become a sort of recurring theme. I can't decide which trainers or bed frame or job or city to commit to...these don't fit quite right, I don't like the legs on that one, I don't know if we can afford it. As I put off decision after decision...they pile up + it all starts to feel overwhelming. So I'm starting with a plan to decrease my decision making when it comes to meal planning. :)
As usual, I don't know if my personal thoughts will be helpful to anyone else, but...here are a few of my recent thoughts on forming (or reforming) a system for meal planning:
So...I decided to keep the plan I've been using...but to give myself two actual meal choices in each supper category...for each season. Right now the categories I'm using include:
Right now, we eat mostly vegetarian + gluten-free + considering some other food sensitivities, so coming up with meals can feel like a long checklist of can-we/can-we-not. I decided that two meals in each category would allow for many weekly combinations. I also left a few options in the meals. For example, one of our favorite meals lately is lemon rice. The base of it is jasmine rice, a little butter, lemon, parmesan cheese + scallions (because they are in season now!) + salt + pepper flakes. We would all enjoy eating it just like this, but adding peas, asparagus, broccoli +/or radishes along with some protein offers an opportunity for both variety + for using fresh spring produce.
Making seasonal iterations of this plan will offer even more chance for variety + for using the season's offerings. For spring, I chose lemon rice + broccoli/cashew rice as our rice meals. In the summer, I may choose a deconstructed sushi bowl + rice with peanut sauce as our rice meal choices. I've put some suggestions on the other season's lists, but I'll leave those decisions for those seasons.
This process reminded me of what Courtney Carver is doing with her 333 wardrobe challenge. The three month blocks in 333 have always seemed a little arbitrary for me weather-wise, but I recognize that it's more about dealing with the system (+ the vast majority of the decision making) all at once + then living + resting within its boundaries for the following three months.
I hope it's obvious that we can eat whatever we want to...whenever. This system is not meant to be restrictive in any way. It just exists as a helper for coming up with meals week after week.
A few questions I asked myself along the way:
I have to say that I feel pretty good about crossing this task off my list. My list looks nourishing + delicious + budget-possible. I don't have to make my shopping list until Friday + it's only Wednesday. I feel like I've done my future self a favor.
The spice drawer offers some eerie similarities to the overstuffed closets in many homes. There are the spices that were used once for that one recipe. There are duplicates bought when we couldn't remember what we already had. There are spices that have completely lost their flavor. We can't bear to throw some away, because they were expensive. Maybe it's time to take stock of the spices hanging out in the kitchen. :)
When I started cooking for myself I didn't really know how to use spices unless I was using a recipe. I wasn't even really sure what flavors some of them brought to the table. Without the knowledge of how to create flavor, I had little ability to create dishes out of what was left in the fridge or pantry at the end of the week. All of this can lead to waste + frustration.
I find immense pleasure in experiencing traditional food from various regions around the world. Some of the most delicious flavors I've tasted were generously shared by neighbors originally from Iraq + India. Food is one of our favorite parts of traveling. We savor eating in restaurants with experienced Mexican, Thai, Chinese + Japanese (etc., etc.) cooks. My at-home cooking really cannot compare to these offerings, but spices can offer a hint of the flavors I wish to recreate.
A few spicy things to consider:
The spices I stock include:
I try to keep things relatively simple in the kitchen for both my budget + waste concerns. But taste is still the number one priority. Here is my personal, simple spice strategy (including one example of something I make in each category):
Someone just starting out without a whole lot of cooking instruction behind them could try this strategy...but could also just be observant when eating food they like. Take note of menu descriptions/combinations. Try to deconstruct surprising flavors. And then try it at home.
Or just start with salt + pepper flakes. Some of our favorite meals need only those:
Obviously, you stock what you like + use. This is just my approach....and my belief that simple can taste so good!
A little bit deeper cleaning of the kitchen is on my calendar for the first week of every month. The shelves get dusted, the fridge + microwave get cleaned + all of the surfaces get a little extra attention. As every jar, can + bottle gets pulled out, I take note of what needs to be used up. Sometimes those forgotten bits are treasures...today I found a lonely Christmas chocolate! :)
Having this chore scheduled helps me stay on top of using up what I have...even the more obscure ingredients. I try to only buy things that I know I will use up, but occasionally I end up with things that require a bit more intentional thought + action.
It can be inspiring to think through ways to use up those bits + pieces. Creativity often leads me away from my regular makes. Today, I made an apple cake substituting a few of my found bits into the recipe.
After today's cleaning, I knew just what cup of tea to drink this afternoon...using up the last of that matcha. Tomorrow I'll use up that chai. Drink it up...eat it up...zero-waste. :)
I've put off this portion of enough in the kitchen for a while, because it feels especially sensitive these days. Feeling that we have enough food comes down to trust at some point, and this pandemic has challenged our trust in so many ways. While each of us may have a different idea of how much food it takes for us to feel like we have enough, I think we can agree that food waste is a problem.
Somewhere between 30-40% of food produced is wasted. Just take a moment with that one. 30-40% of food is wasted + there are still hungry people in this world...in this country...in my city. Some food waste happens at the farm, because "ugly" or irregular fruits + vegetables don't sell. Some food waste happens at grocery stores + restaurants because of expiration dates + excess. Normalizing imperfect looking foods + making sure excess food gets into the hands of those who need it is an incredibly important part of reducing food waste, but right now I'd like us to focus on reducing our own food waste.
Finding our "enough" when it comes to food will help us reduce our food waste. Let's experiment toward figuring out our personal "enough" when it comes to food.
Step 1 ::
Let's explore our thoughts + feelings + experiences with food. This is a big topic + we could explore weight, history with abundance vs. scarcity, how we view food (comfort, sustenance, pleasure, chore, discomfort, etc.), etc. What comes to mind for you? You might want to ask the others with whom you share food for their thoughts + feelings as well.
Our intentions can guide us forward. What are we moving toward? What do we want our (+ our family's) experiences with food to involve, promote, be?
Just as an example, I think of whole foods, nourishing my family, gathering, pleasure, health, love, local, seasonal, organic, garden, zero-waste...
Step 2 ::
Let's think through what an appropriate amount of food might be. I'd imagine you have some feelings about whether you tend toward having too much or too little in your home. Also consider how often you want to shop? How much space do you have for food storage? Do you preserve food? How many do you cook for? How often will you pick up food from a restaurant?
We may want to address our feelings of anxiety + fear of scarcity vs. trust that there will be enough at this point. I feel like trust is good for my soul, my sense of well-being + my peace of mind. But I also remember the specific moment in March when I noticed that the checkout lanes in Target were overflowing with people + their full carts. It was those full carts that made me feel like I was competing for a finite amount of stuff. If they were stocking up on toilet paper, I felt like I had no choice to buy a few extra rolls in order to have any at all. I also felt like I should buy some extra cans of soup in case we were all sick at once + couldn't leave the house.
Now some time has passed, and we have a little perspective. What did you learn? Does your stockpile have expiration dates? (If you need a go-bag or choose to keep a buffer, be sure to set reminders on your calendar to rotate items in + out before the expiration dates come...so that you can use things up.)
We've had enough time now in pandemic times to take note of how much food we need to prepare meals at home day by day + week by week. If we haven't tuned in to this or been intentional about what we would like to be eating, now might be the perfect time. ;)
Step 3 ::
Let's get real about what we have. Get in the pantry, the cupboards, the fridge, the garage, the basement + take stock. Pull things out of hiding. Wipe down the shelves.
What thoughts are coming to the surface? How does this make you feel?
Our goal is to:
You may decide to donate non-expired non-perishables that you are ready to let go to a food bank. Make note not to purchase these again...or at least not in the quantity that led to this excess. Donate with intention next time. :)
Step 4 ::
For the next month, repeat the last three bullet points in Step 3 at your preferred meal planning/grocery shopping intervals.
Some might be able to eat what they already have for quite a while...maybe even the whole month. Maybe you can decide what you will spend your savings on...paying down debt? saving toward something? donating money to a food bank?
Observe + note your feelings. What do you learn about "enough" in regards to food? Track spending + waste. How would you like to move forward?
Step 5 ::
Further thought + exploration:
Find our other experiments with less in the kitchen here: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05.
Our experiments with less over the past few weeks were done in hopes of being able to recognize our own personal "enough" in the kitchen. It took a bit of work + soul searching to reach this point. Let's be intentional about what we do with this clearer idea of "enough" going forward.
As for me :: I want to rest in enough. I want to make nourishing food for my family. I want everything to fit into the kitchen that I have. I want have confidence that moving can be manageable. I want freedom from the constant desire for more. I want everyone to have enough.
I value farmers, whole foods, health, peace of mind, being a part of making sure there is enough for everyone's need, our planet, living within our means + keeping things out of the landfill.
I copy my list of "enough" into the first pages of my journal each year as both reference + reminder. My entire list is entitled: "Enough :: Replacements Only" as a reminder that this is all I need to make delicious + nutritious meals for my family. My list has been thoroughly tested over the past few years. Having all of these things written down somehow makes me feel like my mind no longer has to wonder what else I might want or need.
My desires + values make me feel happy + strong + resolved. This is no grit-your-teeth deprivation. This is sweet liberation enabled by a joyous conviction. And I still get to shop for colorful, delicious, nutritious food every week! :)
Find our experiments with less in the kitchen here: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06.
on a journey toward zero-waste, simplicity, + compassion :: daring to choose fair one choice at a time