no regrets (or guilt) this holiday season

Source: via Stevi on Pinterest


Thanks for your patience with my unplanned vacation and offline time this month. It was great to see family, enjoy my beloved Vancouver and finally, after a day and a half of travel, return home. We’re now over the jet-lag and prepping for a quiet and relaxed holiday season. I’ll have a few posts in the coming weeks about keeping things sane and simple and our very merry minimalist holiday plans.

Please tell me no one camped out over night for Black Friday sales.

Hey, I love a bargain myself but really, are the savings worth a night in the cold, the crush of humanity and the hollow feeling of victory as you lay down your credit card at the till? Shopping shouldn’t be a sport. Or a hobby. Reports of pepper spraying and brawls just reinforced to me that Black Friday isn’t a bargain, it’s a sad commentary on consumerism.

I was excited to see Holstee shut their virtual doors on Black Friday (thanks Natalie for pointing this out).

You may have noticed I now have an ad for Holstee on this site. I am dipping my toes in the advertising pool and this is the first company I have come across that is selling, and living, a lot of things I value. Upcycled goods, supporting locally (American in this case) made, giving a percentage of profits to charity (Kiva) and, wow, not only not taking part in Black Friday but shutting their doors. For me, minimalism isn’t about never buying anything, it’s about feeling good about the purchase. Part of the feel good is buying from retailers that are doing good, like Holstee.

I’ll be writing more about holidays, gift giving and how I am managing the rest of the world’s expectations with my own, in the coming weeks. Here are some ideas for getting on track for a simple and joyful holiday season:

Know your limits. Some people can go out every night and still feel refreshed and on track. I’m not one of them. If I’m out of the house more than 2-3 nights of the week I get squirelly and run down. It’s not just about late nights, it’s about quiet time and recharging. While I like socializing and connecting with people I am by nature an introvert (for a real look at what it means to be an introvert or extrovert click here). I recharge with alone time. As a parent, alone time is at a premium. I usually find it in the early morning and after 8pm. Going out late at night and sleeping in a bit  takes away any of that time. So sometimes I say no to going out to keep the balance.

No regrets. Spend within your means. Avoid credit as much as possible. I say as much as possible because my mom used credit for a lot of Christmases. I know that for parents struggling to make rent this is a really tough time of year. They want to light up their children’s eyes on Christmas morning. So light them up with one gift, not many. One thing they really want. Fingers crossed it’s not an iPad

No guilt. If you are handed a gift and don’t have one to give back, do not run out to the store for one of those impersonal prepackaged bath and soap sets. Thank the gift giver and be gracious. True gifts are given without expectation of being reciprocated.

More doing, less stuff. The dinner table conversation this time of year can easily turn to countdowns to Christmas and wish lists. Stem the gift frenzy as soon as it starts. Plan some new activities, things you might like to carry forward as traditions. Family ice skating, a trip to the local mountains for fun in the snow or a late night walk through a neighborhood decked out for the holidays. This is also a great time of year to volunteer for a charitable organization. Family conversation should be steered toward doing, not buying. I’m still not sure what we will get Henry for Christmas but I am really excited for the Santa Train this weekend.

Be gracious when receiving. Don’t steal any joy from the person giving you a gift. Be thankful and excited. Even if you know the item is going to donations in January.

Get a daily dose of simplicity. A friend of mine signed up for Marianne Elliott’s (Zen Peacekeeper) 30 day holiday course this year. The course is about finding peace and zen in the holiday madness and the delivery method is one email a day for the 30 days leading up to Christmas. We’re having what most people will consider a quiet holidays season but reading about this course hit close to home. Who hasn’t set themselves up with ridiculously long baking lists and said yes to too many social engagements at this time of year? When you’re pulling sugar cookies out of the oven at 2am on December 23rd, it’s too late. Committing to a daily reminder for simplicity is a brilliant idea.

While this course is now closed you can still get that daily reminder of peace, simplicity and focusing on what really matters. Commit to 10 minutes of daily meditation, yoga or staring out the window with a cup of tea and letting your thoughts go. Find small ways to remind yourself that less is more for the holidays too and that by keeping plans simple and gift giving thoughtful and not obligatory, you can have a restful and joyous holiday season. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed create a mantra for yourself. Simple Christmas. Joyful season. Love not stuff.

How are you keeping the holiday season simple and restful?

PS. Still tweaking it but what do you think of the new look here? I wanted to move to something a bit simpler and easier to read.


Entrepreneur? Author? The Only 72 sale starts today.

Just a quick note for any budding entrepreneurs or authors, the Only 72 sale starts today at noon.

Last year the bargain sale was on minimalist and simplicity books. I bought $1000 worth of e-books for $97. Still very happy with the purchase and all the inspiration and how-to I got from it. Some of those books helped propel me past the I’ve done three trips to donations and now I’m in a funk stage of de-cluttering. I also read Adam Baker’s Unautomate Your Finances (sorry, no longer available) that was part of the package and got even more resolve to get out of debt.

This year’s book and course catalog is from online entrepreneurs and authors. If you’re starting a business, thinking about it or want to get published or self-publish a book there are some great tools here for you. These products and contributors cover an unbelievable variety of online business topics… everything from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN to SEO, Niche selecting, blogging for business and productivity.

The Business “Launcher” Package is $1,033 worth of books for $97 (90% off for the 72 hour sale period).

The Business “Amplifier” Package is $4,344 worth of books and courses (including everything in the “Launcher” package) for $497  (89% off).

Contributors in the sale include:

  • Launcher Package: Tyler Tervooren, Nick Reese, Scott Young, Shane Ketterman, Sean Ogle, Chris Garrett, David Risley, Sean Malarkey, Lewis Howes, James Clear, Srini Rao, and Danielle LaPorte.
  • Amplifier Package: Chris Guillebeau, Pam Slim, Desiree Adaway, Ashley Ambirge, Johnny B. Truant, Greg Rollett, Laura Roeder, Corbett Barr, Erica Douglass, David Risley, Jonathan Mead, Jen Gresham, and Charlie Gilkey.

Quick reminder: these books are a great deal if you read them. I quickly tore through a handful of the books in last year’s package and got great value from my purchase. Make sure you are going to commit to using and reading the material before you buy. Otherwise it’s like buying books to dust (and I hate that!).

If you’re interested head over to for more information. And best of luck with your book and/or business!

a week without a cell phone


We’ve been in Vancouver for a week now. A very busy week seeing lots of friends and family. It’s less like a vacation than I expected (replete with husband still working a bit while technically taking vacation days). Less vacation but still great to be in my hometown, see loved ones and even get some Crossfit workouts in at my old gym (so sore!!).

I’ve discussed here that we ditched our iPhones and even claimed that I was going to see if I could go without a cell phone on the Isle of Man. I didn’t. In the end I got a cheap pay as you go phone. I mostly use it to schedule play dates.

This week I am trying something new. No cell phone at all.

While I should be rhapsodizing about how free I feel, that a cell phone ties you down and steals your attention, I am going to say the exact opposite.

Not having a cell phone is a real pain.

Not because they are necessary but because everyone else here has them. City life is busier than island life. People stack their days more. It’s harder to get together and coordinate meeting up. Things just move faster.

Sure, some of this is because we decided to fly over two days before our flight left. There wasn’t much time to set up dinners and get togethers ahead of time. Our friends and family already had full social calendars and their usual activities when we decided to cross the pond. They’ve all been fantastic in rearranging schedules and seeing us as much as possible. But with a lot of family, and Chris and I often in different spots, it’s been hard to nail down the details. I wander the city taking Henry to our old haunts with no way to get in touch or be in touch with people. It hasn’t been liberating. It’s been frustrating.

That said, I actually believe even more that I could go without a cell phone on the Isle of Man without too much impact to our social life. Things are slower. The expat dinner club arranges things by email. Most of the mom’s I know are fairly quick returning an email messages. We wouldn’t be social outcasts because we decided to ditch cell phones entirely.

I know some of you don’t have cell phones. Can you tell me why? Do you feel it impacts your social life or makes things unduly difficult?

Another thing I am interested in, but not even close to doing myself, is cutting Internet service at home. Joshua and Ryan over at The Minimalists talk about it here. I see the merits, I get it, I think it’s awesome, but I couldn’t do it myself right now for so many reasons (work, Skype with family, sourcing recipes and Crossfit workouts to name a few). Sure, I could do all of that in a coffee shop but I’m rarely at coffee shops these days. I use Internet service in the wee morning before my son is up, during his nap time and when/if Henry gets himself very involved in a task. Could you give up home Internet service?




sometimes you have to ask

Source: via Mary on Pinterest


I once hated returning things. And negotiating.

In fact, I never really grasped store return policies (and how great they can be) until I was in university in the US. A roommate of mine returned a pair of year old shoes to Nordstroms department store. The sole had started to separate from the rest of the shoe. I was blown away that they took them back and replaced them. No questions asked.

Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Or a British thing (my parents came to Canada as newlyweds from Scotland). For a long time I never returned things. If they broke, wore out quickly or did not perform as advertised, I felt like it was my bad luck as a consumer. In my mind returning something was akin to begging. I know, that is some messed up logic.

Things have changed. Now if something breaks, or wears out quickly, I send it back to get repaired or replaced. I keep receipts for all big items and for anything small I paid cash for. If I lose a receipt and paid for it with a credit card, I use a copy of the credit card statement as proof of purchase.

As I become a more conscious and savvy consumer I am also working on my negotiating skills. I’m asking more.

Recently the asking has resulted in some big savings for us.

In August we negotiated a rent reduction of 150/month ($240  USD). We initially negotiated a smaller rent reduction, found a flat next door at a better price, and served notice that we would be moving out. Our landlord eventually came back to us with a larger rent reduction.

A few weeks ago I read an article on mortgage rates and told Chris we should look into our current rate and if we could get it reduced. A few emails with our mortgage rep later and we are now paying .5% less over the next five years. It is saving us thousands of dollars.

You have to ask. Be polite, remove the emotion from the situation, but ask. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no.

We want to continue to remain consumer debt-free, accelerate our mortgage payments and give more. Living simply and with less stuff is the biggest contributor to those goals. Negotiating lower prices and reduced bills is the gravy.

If you’re in debt it’s even more important that you ask. Consolidation loans, reduced interest rates, better deals on your cable or cell phone bills. All of these money saving opportunities are out there for you. You just have to ask.

Has anyone else recently reduced a payment or negotiated a better deal on a purchase or service? Any tips?


Thank you to everyone that has supported my book project with your comments here, by sharing this blog with friends or purchasing the book – and your patience when I took a blogging break in August to work on it.

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve raised $120 for CARE! Add to that $25 that a reader donated when I sent her an advance copy. So a total of $145 was raised through book sales and the generous readers here. Thank you. I’m still surprised and honoured at the number of you that read this blog, write insightful comments and share our minimalist journey with your friends and family. It feels really good to harness the power of living with less into a monetary donation for maternal healthcare in a developing nation. Many, many thanks.

I’ve been offline a lot this week as Henry and I made a very last minute decision to fly to Vancouver for a two week visit (thank you awesome employer that pays for expat trips home!). A series of unfortunate events has conspired to keep Chris here for two weeks (or more). Luckily, it’s our hometown. We are soaking up city life and visiting friends and family as much as possible. I’ve already consumed a few checklist treats that I can’t get on the Isle of Man: sushi, nachos and a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha.

This trip means that we won’t be ‘home’ for Christmas. It will be my first Christmas away from family ever. Looking forward to it as a milestone, the beginning of our little family starting our own traditions and a different holiday experience. You get lemons, make lemonade, right? And, there’s always Skype.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my posting schedule here for the next two weeks. Forgive me if I am a bit light on the words – thanks!



4 Ways to Live With Less Stuff, More Fulfillment

This is a guest post from Rachel Denning of Been a crazy week for me personally. I am currently in Vancouver for 2 weeks to spend time with Chris as he waits for a new passport and UK visa. I’ve had this post saved for a little while and am excited to share it with you. Not sure we will ever be living out of a truck ourselves but find reading about this lifestyle inspiring. Enjoy! And thanks again for all the support with the book. I will have an update this weekend on the funds raised for CARE.

Perched atop the mountains, expansive picture windows provided us a picturesque view of the Central Valley below from our large, spacious (and fully furnished) rental home in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It was just a few months ago that we were living in the United States, and decided to sell most of our stuff and move abroad. Costa Rica was our country of choice – for several reasons – and now we were living here.

We loved the beauty, the diversity, the culture, the people- but it wasn’t a simple life. We’d carried our old American ways of consumerism and social expectations with us, and maintained (and amplified) them in the expat community where we lived.

Our home was an ungodly 6500 sq. feet of (beautiful but) unneeded space. Our monthly expenses would have made Suze Orman scream. We equated having lots of stuff and spending lots of money with being happy.

Instead of happiness, what I usually felt was a great deal of stress (on meeting those monthly massive bills), and an unreasonable compulsion to have more, believing that it would be the ‘answer’.

Fast forward four years, and I sit here writing in my ‘home office’ – the passenger seat of our Ford F250 – expedition vehicle/home on wheels.

We’re camped just sprinting distance from the wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico (where we’ll be crossing later today).

The approximately 321 things that we own fit into totes that are attached to our roof. Our five children sleep soundly in the back of our truck, or in the roof top tent above.

From one extreme to another (at first by economic force, and then by choice), we’ve learned to simplify.

We have minimal stuff, but ample quality time together. We lack a permanent residence, but are abundant in freedom.

Rousing ourselves from the hypnosis of social conditioning, we’ve awaken to a new reality: We’ve discovered that it’s not things that bring meaning to life, but relationships and experiences.

Here are 4 ways that you can simplify stuff, and amplify living:

1. Eliminate the Distractions

Our lives are crazy busy. So much so that it keeps us from spending time with our loved ones.

What ‘free’ time we may have after work, school and extracurricular activities is unfortunately usually sucked up by TV, video & computer games, Facebook and countless other technical interferences.

To find more fulfillment in living, it may require drastic action. Throw out your TV, get rid of the video games (and the constant battles with your kids that go with them) and set strict rules on social media.

Oh, it will be an adjustment at first (and your kids will definitely throw a fit). But you (and they) will get over it, and soon find new, more engaging activities that help you grow.

Our two boys are especially fond of video games and movies. Along our travels, we’re often invited to stay with families along our way.

At one home, my boys had a heyday playing Wii all day long. They couldn’t get enough, it was all they wanted to do, even with a trampoline, legos, and other previous ‘favorites’.

When the time came for us to leave, they went through a ‘withdrawal’ – whiney, pouty and just plain unpleasant.

But returning to the simplicity of our life, free from those types of ‘distractions’, the very next day they spent 4 hours occupied by the same pile of dirt, some buckets of water and their imagination. (And it didn’t result in whininess and withdrawals when it was time to go).

By simplifying the distracting elements in your life, you’ll discover that less is more – more time to spend together, more freedom to pursue your hobbies, more time to educate your mind and ignite your imagination, more focus on what is meaningful.

2. Eliminate the Excess

Everything that you own takes up space – not just in your home, but your thoughts, your time, your energy.

Every time you have to clean it, move it, organize it, shelve it, box it, store it – you’re giving away part of your life to this thing.

Get rid of anything that doesn’t add real value to living, and get your life back.

Does this mean we should live like monks and own only a robe? No.

Owning things can make your life better, when in the proper balance. I enjoy having clothes to wear :) but for me I don’t need a whole closet full. I use shampoo to wash my hair, but I don’t have a cupboard of extra (half empty bottles). One bottle is sufficient, and then I buy another when it’s gone.

I also find great fulfillment in taking pictures of our travels, so a camera (and the necessary accessories) adds value to my life. As does my laptop and it’s attendant devices.

The message of minimalism isn’t that owning things is ‘bad’, but that having things in excess begins to take away our life in direct proportion to the amount of excess things that we have.

3. Do More Stuff, Don’t Buy More Stuff

Our lives should be about experimentation, not accumulation. Life is meant to be lived, not purchased.

Having lived abroad and come back to my home country, I’ve noticed that a favorite American pass-time is shopping. It’s recreational.

Instead of shopping we should be sharing – fun, significant and bonding experiences with our family and friends.

Once you’ve eliminated the distractions and the excesses, it’s time to alter habits – get out, but not to go shop. Instead start experiencing the world, first your neighborhood, then your community and the world.

If you really want to spend money, then spend it on experiences, not stuff – a gourmet meal; a trip to the zoo or museum; a class on painting; an excursion abroad.

(And you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll be able to spend on experiences once it’s not being spent on distractions and excesses).

You’ll accrue lasting memories and personal growth, instead of a houseful of ‘junk’.

4. Spend More Time in Nature

Technology is an incredible thing. It’s provided the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate in unbelievable ways. It adds a lot of benefits to our life.

We can have the comforts of temperature control, electricity to light our homes when it’s dark, Facebook to keep us in touch with friends around the world, and an app for everything.

But technology also has the capacity to take away from living. With it’s addictive nature, if we’re not careful, we may spend all our waking hours attached to some piece of it – whether it’s our Smartphone, our Bluetooth, our iPod, or our laptop.

In getting connected and comfortable we’ve also become disconnected.

We’re disconnected from the natural rhythms of nature – the rising and setting of the sun, the cycles of the moon. We’re detached from our natural environments, which are covered in concrete, landscaped and regulated by HOA’s.

How often do we watch a bug on a leaf; the sun peak over the mountains; have the full moon light our path; see the stars in a pitch black night?

Nature has a powerful healing influence which technology has eliminated from our lives. Just being in it brings us fulfillment. It doesn’t require having the right app, or making sure there’s a good internet connection. You just have to show up.

Our personal journey has taught me that living simply truly leads to more fulfillment. It really doesn’t take a lot of stuff to be happy. It doesn’t cost anything to enjoy a sunset, or to spend time holding hands with your child. All that is required is the space for it to happen, and a mind focused on enjoying it.

Rachel Denning is traveling with her husband and 5 children from Alaska to Argentina. She writes about their family travel adventures and inspires others to design the lifestyle of their dreams.


a dark and stormy winter without a car

Rough day in Douglas

Douglas Bay, Isle of Man Photo Credit: Jim Weir

Winter at 54.5 degrees north of the equator means some short days and long nights. The longest day this summer was 17 hours and the shortest this winter will be 7 hours and 20 minutes. Dramatic windy and wet storms have rolled in several times this fall (see photo above) and I was caught out in a light shower of hail the other week.

We are feeling a strong urge to hibernate.

We are also feeling the downside to not having a car.

The truth is that while Douglas, Isle of Man is quite walkable it is not as convenient as our former neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver. It’s a good 25 minute walk each way into town from our flat on the Promenade. The closest indoor play area is a 20 minute walk away. Even most of our play date friends are a good 20-30 minutes away. We love our ocean view and the proximity to Chris’ work (a 12 minute walk) but we pay for it with some distance from friends and amenities.

Obviously it would be more convenient to get a car for the winter.

But we’re holding out. Chris thinks I will be the deciding factor. He figures he will still walk to work most of the winter and grab a cab on exceptionally wet and windy days. I’m the one out and about during the day and if it gets to be too much, if the rain cover on our stroller, my knee high wellies and my Mac rain jacket aren’t enough cover to get us out in bad weather, we might get a car.

But I hope not.

The beach is across the street for afternoon fresh air and exploring. Henry gets out and plays with other children at least 3-5 times a week. I connect with adults during the day at least 2-3 times in the week with more outings/visits on the weekend. I know that we’re happiest with a balance of social engagements, one or two drop in classes and activities a week and quiet time at home. The question is if we will start skipping those outside the home activities because the weather is just too daunting.

I’m also trying to use the bus more. There is a stop just across the street and for a pound we can be in town in under ten minutes (and stay mostly dry).

The real cost of not having a car.

We’ve actually made no effort to cut corners or put limits on transportation spending here. If it’s made sense to get a cab we have. If we want to take a bus to Peel (very cute town a thirty minute drive away) we do it. My mom just visited for a week and we paid for her taxi to and from the airport. This is not an exercise in deprivation but rather a lifestyle choice. We like all the perks of not having a car. And 95% of the time we walk. It’s our preferred mode of transportation.

Here’s what we have spent on transportation since arriving in the Isle of Man five months ago. This doesn’t include bus fare to the airport for our family trip to Dublin or my trip to Toronto (we take that $ out of our vacation/travel spending account).

Total: £380 ($609 USD or CDN)

Monthly Average:  £76 ($121 USD or CDN)

Included in that total is £100 GBP for train passes (which were actually a gift from my MIL) and £40 for horse tram passes. The rest was spent on buses, cabs and a few train trips before we got our season passes. Not included is the £3-£5 a week we spend on grocery delivery. We could include that but… I think I would get grocery delivery even if we did have a car. Everyone else I know on the island that uses grocery delivery (mostly expats that rave about it) has a car but like the ease and convenience of online grocery shopping and delivery.

What would a car cost us? I’m not sure (which means I don’t want to do a lot of math right now). What I do know is that gas here is £1.45/litre which for US readers would be $8.76/gallon (quick check says the US average is around $3.74/gallon) and for Canadian readers it would be $2.36/litre (quick check shows a big range in gas prices in Canada but I saw an average of $1.24/litre).

Those fuel numbers alone make me think we are doing just fine with our bus, cab and train costs.

As with most of our lifestyle changes I am loathe to say this is forever. It’s not. It’s for now and it works and when it doesn’t work for us anymore we will come up with a new plan.

Could the new plan involve a bike? Maybe.

Car-free isn’t for everyone but car-lite could be.

I connected with Stacy from A Simple Six a few weeks ago. I was immediately fascinated by their journey to reduce their vehicle use. This is a family of six with four children ranging in age from 2 to 9. In the spring of 2011 they decided to go car-lite and sell their car, keep the family van, and invest in a fleet of bikes. They bike as a family to school and haul groceries home with a trailer. They drive their van about 20 miles a week.

This is doable. For a lot of people.

It’s not easy, it’s taken a lot of strategy and trial and error, but they are making it work and, most importantly, enjoying it. As a family they have created a schedule that allows the kids to still have play dates and take classes. Stacy even takes her kids to dentist appointments (on Halloween no less!) by bike.

If you’re considering giving up your second car or only car head over and have a read at A Simple Six. They even detail cycled, bus and driving mileage for the week on their blog. Inspiring stuff.

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