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what to do with knickknacks

We all have this stuff. Little objects that are emotionally valuable, but don’t serve any practical purpose. My collection looks like this:

And I have stored them in the same way since I was about ten years old. I love Converse shoes, so I kept a shoe box and put all of the things inside:

Every so often I will empty the box and sort through the objects, reflecting on the memories they represent and removing the ones whose significance I can no longer remember, or the ones to which I’m ready to say goodbye.

During the most recent declutter, I decided to part with my I Love NY pens. Every time my family visited New York City I would buy a new pen that I would use for nothing but journal-writing.

It was the age at which I was proud to have used up an entire pen’s worth of ink – that was a lot of writing then. Now I have this picture (and this blog post) about the pens instead of the pens themselves. Now when I run out of ink, to ease my frustration, I recall the sense of accomplishment that the same inconvenience made me feel years ago.

I keep all of my knickknacks tucked away in my special box. Over time I forget what exactly is inside, so when I open it up in a few months it’s a pleasant surprise. When the time comes to part with an object (or seven) I remember that it’s the experience attached to the object, not the object itself, that is significant.

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redefine luxury

Luxury pour moi, daily life for Miss Blair

“The only way to really feel luxury is to go without it and then take a good long gulp.”

The Art of More for Less: Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson

She is right. Luxury is only luxurious if we are not accustomed to it. Gossip Girl lifestyles seem luxurious to me, but they can’t possibly be as luxurious to the characters to whom a casual trip to the Chanel house before a $500 date is the only way to live (live. exist. whatever you want to call fiction. That show is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of “luxury” so I’m sticking to the comparison).

The quotation allowed me to realize that luxury is relative. It is different for everyone. It is different for me depending on my situation as well – for instance, after my tri-annual six-hour no-sleep flight to England, my flimsy dorm bed is all the luxury I need.

The first time I practiced yoga, the instructor defined the practice as “finding your limit and challenging it.” I’ve been hooked on the idea ever since, whether it’s increasing my flexibility through yoga, or decreasing the clutter through minimalism. As I become more comfortable with less, I also require less to feel luxurious. Since I usually air-dry my clothes, retrieving a load of laundry fresh and hot from the tumble dryer is a thrill. Reading most of my books on my kindle makes hardcovers, even paperbacks feel luxurious in my hands. Accepting a shiny pink Betsey Johnson bag with thick black ribbon handles is an indulgence, since I always carry reusable shopping bags.

However, depriving myself of pleasures just to experience it “in one gulp” is not the only reason I am a minimalist. In fact, many of the habits I have shed are not ones that I miss. Since I’ve been vegetarian, I have not craved meat. Since switching to Lush’s toothy tabs I can’t imagine going back to toothpaste. My home sock drawer seems overwhelmingly full compared to the easy-to-find pairs to which I have pared down (couldn’t resist that one) at uni.

So I tell myself: Live with what you need. Enjoy what you want. Keep challenging your limits.

essential thing: chocolate truffles

my name is xandra burns and i am a chocoholic.

i don’t know if chocolate truffles would be listed as an “essential thing” for any other minimalist, but hear me out:

truffles are a prime example of quality over quantity.

minimalism is about eliminating excess – what you can live without, what you don’t truly love – and i truly love chocolate. however, i don’t love all chocolate. i think i can say that i like almost all kinds of chocolate. i’m satisfied with the cheap sainsbury’s bars. but i would much prefer a champagne truffle, a rich slice of chocolate cheesecake from caffe nero, a triple chocolate bens cookie hot out of the oven.

so no more sainsbury’s. no more vending machine chocolate. no more packaged chocolate cookies. if i’m going to eat chocolate, i’m going to eat it luxuriously, with style.

an expensive habit? a bit, but ultimately, i eat less chocolate and i eat better chocolate. it evens out when i factor in health and happiness.

since my truffles are so exquisite, so cherished, i only eat them on occasion, and when i have earned them. i have made it a habit to eat a truffle only when i have accomplished a daunting task or worked solidly for a considerable amount of time.

i keep a jar of truffles on my desk as an incentive. when i limit the kinds of chocolate i eat and limit the amount i consume, it becomes more of a treat, which, after all, is the point of truffle-eating in the first place.

my june resolution

this will be simple. i will be brief. my resolution for june is to focus. i’m reading leo babauta’s book. while i love the ideas, i could have come up with most of them on my own. but that’s not the point – the point is that he took the time to write it down, to state the obvious instead of just assuming the obvious, and by stating it, by suggesting it, made me realize that knowing is different from doing.

focus is about single-tasking. it’s about living efficiently and deliberately. it’s about appreciating each moment and thinking carefully about how to spend time. it’s about slowing down and loving and living life more.

going veggie

i have been a vegetarian for about six weeks now.

why have i decided to be a vegetarian?

simply put: it’s healthier. i don’t like meat that much.

the added benefits?

i don’t feel guilty about eating animals, and it’s better for the environment.

however, as harsh as it sounds, one person does not make that much difference. what really counts is getting large number of people to give up meat, and that’s not part of my agenda. this choice¬† is for my benefit and my reasons. personally, i have a problem with animal cruelty to the extent that eating meat bothered me. does it bother me when other people eat meat? a little, but i feel hypocritical to say so since i was one of them not too long ago. it’s a personal decision and i can only speak for my own experience.

and i love it so far.

i like lambs. i don't want to eat them.

and i don't want chikens to live like this. images from "food inc." helped solidify my decision.

what were my initial concerns?

there are certain foods i could not imagine giving up – burgers, spaghetti with meat sauce, bacon and sausages for full english…but when i realized that i can substitute veggie burgers for burgers, quorn for ground beef, and veggie sausages, mushrooms, and tomatoes for bacon and sausages, this was no longer a problem.

i’m also quite the foodie and was worried about missing out on interesting gourmet options. in oxford at least, there are plenty of delicious vegetarian options that i hardly notice. in my college hall, the vegetarian dish is almost always much better than the meat one anyway (for this, i am quite fortunate), and i would opt for it even before i decided to commit to vegetarianism.

gourmet burger kitchen does amazing veggie burgers.

how do i manage to eat a balanced diet without meat?

i have done some research, including monitoring my daily intake, and was surprised to find that i have been consuming enough protein without meat without even trying to replace it. i love eggs and beans (and nutella), and eat enough every day to fulfill my daily requirement. what i lacked was actually fruits and vegetables, which are now much more incorporated into my diet. it was not difficult to start eating healthily once i became better aware of what healthy entails.

while nutritional needs vary person to person, i use this chart as a basic guideline.

defining vegetarianism

calling myself a vegetarian was sort of scary, just like calling myself a minimalist. there were periods before i decided to commit (to both) in which i shied away from the idea and didn’t even consider it. ultimately, the extent to which you are a vegetarian or a minimalist is up to you. some vegetarians eat fish, for example. now, i don’t like fish enough for that to be my exception. my initial plan was to eat meat occasionally when i wanted it – better that than keeping a few cravings from calling myself a full vegetarian – but i haven’t even wanted to do that.

where to look for help

many of my favorite bloggers are vegetarian or vegan and have shared their stories and offered advice:

leo babauta – mnmlist

angela liddon – oh she glows

alicia silverstone – the kind life

the illogical voice of reason in my head

sometimes i find myself in a rut. i can’t stop checking my email. i can’t stop browsing my bookmarks. i can’t stop sampling chocolates on my grocery shelf.

and i’ve figured out why.

when i get antsy like this i get away with it by telling myself that i’ll stop when i’m satisfied – when i’ve received an interesting email, when i’ve found an inspiring blog post, when i’ve eaten the most delicious truffle imaginable. and in such a desperate and rushed search, that satisfaction is hardly achievable. so i keep trying and keep failing.

it’s like when i’ve just awoken in the morning and my mind comes up with the most persuasive reasons to go back to sleep. illogical, but effective.

my goal is this: commit to what’s in front of me.

just sit and eat chocolate if i’m going to eat chocolate. enjoy each bite, actually taste the flavor. instead of skimming a blog post, take the time to read every word. don’t check email in the middle of it.

it is hard. but just identifying the problem is half the battle.

on keeping ticket stubs, posters, and flyers

this year i resolved to see two plays each week. a happy challenge, and some weeks i see up to four. i cherish my time spent at the theatre, and with each trip comes inevitable clutter that i can’t bring myself to abandon right away.

last term i started a tradition. blessed with an enormous notice board waiting to be filled, i tacked up all of my paper souvenirs i had acquired. at the end of term i had a complete collage, which i photographed. then i recycled the whole thing.

i parted with pieces of my collage with less difficulty than i had anticipated. each paper became a symbol of experience, and the finished product represented my journey over the nine weeks of term. i see each term at university as a clean slate, and the notice board serves as physical representation of the possibility to consume culture.

the board is emptier now, but yearns to be filled with tokens of my experiences. by the end of june i will have a new picture, a new complete collage, representing another chapter of my theatre-going story.