Wednesday, January 17, 2018

5 Ideas for Designing a Beautiful Life (That You Can Count as Resolutions!)

There's a Beautiful Future Ahead...
....and We Can Help You Create It! 

We aren't real big on resolutions here at our SmallTownDowntown Wee Urban Homestead and Studio, especially in conjunction with specific calendar dates.  Heading in a positive direction or working toward a goal is a continual process that can begin anytime - and there's no time like the present moment!  

As 'professional makers of beautiful lives', we've assembled five easy-to-integrate ideas for transforming your physical, mental, and emotional spaces into the most comforting, nurturing, sanctified places possible.

1. Know what you love, celebrate who you are, and let your personal style be an absolute PARADE! 

Look around your home, your office, the room you are in right now: chances are that the inventory of things surrounding you has something to say.  "You chose me", these pieces whisper.  Listen closely, and let them tell you "why".  Maybe you love the color, the pattern, or have strong memory associations with them for a beloved person or place from your past. Alternately, you might have felt like crap one day and filled the hole in your heart with a closet full of shoes, had an extra glass of wine at dinner and then got overzealous on Overstock, or your mom guilt-tripped you into taking the family flat-wear even though you didn't want it.  With the possible exception of Tupperware, chances are that Every Single Thing. in your domain - from the food in your fridge to the cat in your bed to the hand-me-down love seat you're sitting on reading this - were of your choosing.

Begin to curate the life you want beginning with the space you're in.  Buy that cute lil' book about taking stock of every item in your space, then only keeping that 'which brings you joy'.  Cull the 'stuff' that holds bad memories, guilt, or that you have simply outgrown.

My friend Kim's new pad.  She downsized and got rid of all the stuff that no longer served her most beautiful life, therefor discovering what mattered the most - including favorite colors and themes. Photo credit: the amazing Kim Mullins 
Get super honest with yourself. Is that basket of yarn just taking up space - when realistically you will never finish knitting your BFF a baby blanket (and the kid is now in college)? Should you maybe not order 20 packets of seeds when you already hate the heat and humidity of summer?  Does that pair of size 8 'skinny jeans' left over from the mid 1980's make you feel bad about your 50-year-old size 16 ass? Yes, the things in your physical space directly impact your emotional and mental state, so why hold onto shame-jeans, guilt-forks, trauma-shoes or 'I-don't-really-love-black-but-everyone-will-think-I'm-crazy-if-I-buy-blue' appliances?
This is Emiko Mori.  Her granddaughter, Chinami, weaves freestyle Japanese textiles that she models. She can lead my parade any day with her radiant personal style! Photo courtesy @1000wave on Instagram
Once you have eliminated what you "don't like" from your life, start finding common themes among that which remains... Maybe you'll discover that you really love red.  Or old recipes.  Or over-blown floral patterns.  This is the foundation to build upon.

*Sidebar (because we can't do an actual sidebar in this format) remember that people, relationships, and thoughts and feelings are 'things you have collected' as well!*

2. Quality Before Quantity! Every. Single. Time. 

We've been trained from birth to consume things.  Houses that used to hold a family of 6 are now deemed 'too small' by city governments to be recreated as starter homes for couples without children or for seniors looking to downsize.  One-car-garage homes used to be standard, but we have plowed right through the two-car-garage tradition of the 1970's and 80's into three and four car garage homes today - where residents STILL park on the street because they have 400 square feet of...

..."Stuff": noun:
A) the material of which anything is made
B) material to be worked upon or to be used in making something
C) material of some unspecified kind (from 
Gosh, who wouldn't want a house full of that? (Insert eye-roll here) Yet...

We have so much stuff that it spills from our homes into our garages and from our garages into storage units. He who dies with the most toys wins.  Meanwhile, jobs and manufacturing are being exported to the other side of the planet. Why? So we can all have more STUFF. Cheaper STUFF.  Faster STUFF.  
Simple, clean farmhouse style design with a detached 2 car garage.  Put PEOPLE up front and CARS and STUFF back away from the front door and front porch! 
The pursuit of stuff doesn't end with clothes, tchotchkes and holiday decor. We push 'bigger' as often as we promote 'more'.  Our plates are bigger, our milk comes in gallons instead of quarts, our toilet paper in packs of 36 rolls (requiring closets the size of small bedrooms), and our stores hold the carrying capacity of several city blocks.  Parking lots have bloated to span football-field sized acreage. Cell phones that once slipped easily into back pockets now demand to be held constantly lest they slip from our inadequate attire and smash on the ground.  We're stuffed to the gills, yet hardly any of it is worth a damn.
Typical "SNOUT HOUSE" - the garage stands out like a snout - obscuring and overriding any redeeming architecture of the home.  The feeling here? "Cars and STUFF" matter the most - right up front, and people trying to create a COMMUNITY come second, since there is no front porch ... in fact, it is hard to find the front door! 
When the driving force is "more" or "bigger" instead of "better", the quality of our life diminishes while the space we occupy expands.  Not only is this a strain on natural resources, but it is also harmful to individual well being.  Too much un-curated 'stuff' - that which isn't purposefully selected after careful consideration - creates visual clutter in physical spaces.  Visual clutter fills the mind, creates distractions, and can produce anxiety.  Undisciplined consumption can also cause secondary stress by adding to debt, and debt is the ultimate hindrance to personal freedom - so choose your stuff wisely! 

One would think that this photo - snatched from an article about new trends in minimalism - would emphasize the importance of BUYING LESS.  But nope - it wound up leading the reader to an ad for storage units! Bah humbug. 
A beautiful life comforts, nurtures and supports - and with the savings you'll see from consuming less, you can kick-start the luxury by investing in the following: 

     The very best mattress you can afford - you spend a third of your life in bed, and a good mattress keeps you feeling rested and free of aches and pains.  Worth it. 
     High quality knives - nothing is worse than trying to prepare a healthy meal with dull, dangerous knives.  Make cooking easy and joyful. 
     Good shoes - avoid the back and knee problems that wearing poorly made or ill fitting shoes will create down the road.
     Nutritious food - you are what you eat!
     Trips to the dentist and eye doctor - because it sucks to not have eyes or teeth.
     A good bag/purse/backpack/briefcase - something simple that will last a lifetime and keep you organized day to day
While this may seem like a 'beginners' list designed for a recent graduate just breaking out on their own (and it IS), it is shocking how many middle-aged folks we know (with decent incomes no less) are hobbling around in one of fifty pairs of the bad footwear filling their closet floors, or who can't cut a fresh tomato with rusty old knives - all because they feel pressured to continually, impulsively and indiscriminately spend their money on the cheapest, fastest, newest, and often financed/debt-laden goods. 
A carefully curated kitchen: This space was designed with detail to favorite colors, patterns, and with purposeful selection of specific pieces.  

Good design is NEVER about 'filling a space'.  It is about carefully selecting and placing well-loved, well-made items over time. You know what you love.  It's worth waiting for. And YOU'RE worth a beautiful soul-space, too!  Enough of the Stuff! 

3. Shop Local.  Support small businesses and purchase 'one of a kind' pieces...

Ok, so it's unlikely you will be able to find a locally sourced flat-screen tv, or a new Honda made in your neighborhood, and we all know how hard it is to resist the temptation of having everything from tire chains to vacuum cleaners to corn flakes delivered right to our doorstep - but shopping local matters.  Like, a LOT.  

Volumes of books have been written about 'Why Local Is Better', and yes, the economic impact of 'shopping local' is staggering compared to when we send our dollars out of the community, but here we want to focus specifically on how supporting your hometown businesses affects Your Own Most Beautiful Life. 

A giant kaleidoscope and other glass pieces in our lil' window front - totally unique to our town! 
Where we shop, where we eat and have fun — all of it makes our community home, so let’s celebrate it! Our one-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of the distinctive character of this place. It’s what distinguishes between being here, versus when you’re in a big chain store or restaurant that could just as easily be in Buffalo, NY or Lansing, Michigan.  Local foods mean local flavors and seasonal treats - all without the added cost and waste of long distance transportation.  The same holds true for local furnishings and art works: as you build your private space, it will naturally reflect and compliment the larger setting surrounding it.  

Local businesses are naturally innovative - especially those in the arts - as they strive to stand out and attract customers with one-of-a-kind products and unique (often interactive and entertaining) marketing events.  These are the places where you can find the components of both 'standing out' and 'fitting in' comfortably - where your purchases will often be attached to memories of a special place, a special moment, and special people - and where you are most likely to find regionally informed pieces/foods/styles that are simultaneously timelessly fashionable yet somehow always ahead of changing 'trends'. 

Early morning in a London neighborhood - designed for people, not cars :)
Most small businesses are very involved in their communities, and are more often found in town centers than on the fringes of newer developments.  By patronizing them, its likely that you are also supporting a historic district, a Main Street project, a diverse population of residents, and - perhaps most critically - you are supporting GOOD URBAN DESIGN.  Downtown areas of all sizes were traditionally developed before the era of cars, highways, cul-de-sacs or mega-center styled shopping.  Residences housed working-class families, singles roomed in over-the-carriage-house apartments, wealthier folks lived right there on the same street, and everyone worked, shopped and dined within walking distance of their home.  Parks and schools were accessible for children, and architecture featuring front porches (with garages in the rear!) meant people greeted each other and knew their neighbors.  Streets laid out in grids allowed for more efficient infrastructure installation and maintenance - which helps save the city money in the long run.  

Supporting local infuses life into regional economies, allows for entrepreneurial innovation, connects individuals to larger communities, and supports friendly, safe and sustainable design.   It keeps local food resources available and preserves the gene pool of regional food-crop species, and helps small farms and nurseries provide the 'right plant for the right places'.  Why go any further? 

To learn more about all aspects of responsible, sustainable and BEAUTIFUL urban design, don't miss the STRONG TOWNS movement - you can find their website here.  

4. Nurture living things in your spaces - including food and wildlife

Human needs extend far beyond the basic "food, water, clothing, shelter, and decent wifi service".  We need to connect with nature, with the living things from which we sprang and who we share our world with. Maintaining strong, nurturing relationships with other living beings is an essential element of Designing Your Most Beautiful Life.  

The easiest way to integrate nature beauty into our lives is through fresh flowers and/or arrangements using natural materials.  Whether you buy a small bunch of flowers at your local corner store or snip some from your (or a neighboring) garden, you can truly do a lot on a dime.  Here are a few samples of arrangements using recycled bottles as vases, and chances are you have much of these things on hand already :) 

 Pets are an obvious way to connect with other living creatures, and we encourage you to keep as many as you can - responsibly - with the space you are given. Busy life in an apartment with lots of travel? Fish might be your best option.  Urban lot with not much yard? A dog and/or cat for sure :) A few acres underfoot? Try your hand at raising a few chickens for fresh eggs along with your house pets... No matter what combination of lifestyle and living space you have, pets have been shown to reduce stress, improve health, and increase joy in peoples lives.

Having mastered fresh flowers and a pet, we believe that everyone can - and SHOULD - continue to engage in learning/enjoying increasingly greater gardening and stewardship skills as a fundamental part of achieving their Best Most Beautiful Lives.  Hush now - nobody actually has a black thumb - they simply haven't been coached by the right garden guru in their neighborhood. Put your feelers out - ask around at your local farmers market, through garden clubs, or knock on the front door of someone whose house boasts an admirable yard :)

A small urban yard (oh, yeah, it's ours) with milkweed to help support butterfly populations :)
If you are interested in trying your hand at wildlife gardening, the National Wildlife Federation has some awesome suggestions for homes of all sizes.  Here is a link to get you started... 

For a true, "full circle", connected-to-nature experience, nothing quite beats growing things you can eat. It can be as simple as a pot of herbs in a window or on a balcony, or as expansive as a French potager (a fancy word for kitchen garden) with chicken coops and other live stock.  Warning! If you click this link to potager ideas on Pinterest, prepare to be distracted for hours! They are simply astounding.  What a beautiful life! DIG INTO IT! 

5. Chase the Rabbit

Chase the rabbit is one of my favorite sayings.  Go ahead and indulge your distractions from time to time.  Follow your curiosity.  Honor you passions and allow them a time and place in your life. Cultivating beauty is a worthy pursuit in whatever form you may find it: it might mean learning more about gardening, trying out a painting class, training to run a marathon, or pushing tots on the swings at the park.  There is an art to everything under the sun. Chase that rabbit dearest ones.  Laugh and spin and play and grow.  If you get stuck, there's always someone to help.  Including us xoxo :) 

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