Welcome to the New Year. New vaccines, new hope. I hope you’re all doing well.
Some of you keen observers noted that I haven’t sent an email in 2021 yet. You’re the best. The reason why is that I took my first vacation* in ages.
My vacation* consisted of taking a 2-week long full-time Spanish language intensive to get one step closer to my goal of speaking business-level Spanish (I’m essentially there). As many of you know, there is some incredible environmental work happening throughout the Spanish-speaking world to the tune of ecosystem revitalization, tree planting, recycling, water conservation, permaculture, and more. I’m excited to put my language skills to good use this year.
Apart from an inordinate amount of time studying, I spent my evenings making my new apartment in Amsterdam as gezellig (cozy) as can be. It’s been really fun discovering some of my old precious things (aka: a bunch of sentimental knick knacks), and calculating which “new” stuff to bring into my HQ.
I’ve always prided myself on being a minimalist nomad, and now that I’m an environmentalist apartment dweller it’s been interesting to witness myself going through the homemaking process. I’m trying to keep things only to what I absolutely need, while also achieving the kind of quality, look, and level of sustainability that I like.
Word on the street is that these days during the pandemic you’re probably doing some of your own homemaking and reorganizing too.
I recently spoke with an art framer about getting one of my old canvas paintings framed. I asked him how business was going and his response was:
“Booming. Everyone is so sick of staring at the same four walls. We’re all doing home makeovers.”
What are you working on at home these days? What are your weekend projects? How are you changing things up?
Here are some fun things that I rediscovered while making my home a home:
Secondhand furniture is the best.
The secondhand furniture market is incredible. There are some really unique, beautifully-designed, antique pieces for way better quality and cheaper prices than what you may find new at a nice furniture store or IKEA.
I bought a work table for my new home office from Neef Louis, a store run by local vintage furniture pickers. My desk was listed as “heavy. robust. sturdy. strong. indestructible.” After assembly, I’m pretty sure that if I was compelled to repeatedly jump on top of it, it wouldn’t break. The legs are zinc steel, the top is solid wood, and it used to live in the workshop of a designer here in the Netherlands. Compared to my size, the table is huge, so I can scatter out different books and to-do lists like a college kid at a library during finals.
To go with the table, I bought some cheap stools made of recycled wood for the moments when I want to sit (stools = better core muscles).
My portal to the world beyond is now complete.
Frugality is a virtue.
The amount of money that one can drop on something as basic as a wardrobe or a table is absolutely mind boggling. Clothes do need a place to live and you know a place to sit and eat is essential in any home, but wow.
It’s been helpful living in the Netherlands while furnishing a new place. Turns out, the Dutch are incredibly frugal and functionalist design snobs. I’ve found sellers accidentally bartering down their own prices (I didn’t respond quickly to a reply about a couch I was interested in and the seller said “All right! I can give it to you for half off. :)”). I’ve used many discount codes, and taken my sweet time to try and find the right stuff at the right price.
This means more money saved (never, ever a bad thing), and also a better result that I am 110% sure of. After eyeing some lighting options for my desk area, I found a discount code to buy two cool lamps that were made from laser cut pieces of recycled MDF (medium density fiberboard made from recycled wood scraps). The lamps were designed by a Dutch duo named Van Tjalle en Jasper. Their tagline is “we work hard to keep it simple.”
Music to my ears.
My friends have great taste.
My friends Daniel and Alyse (hey!) from my quarantine bubble decided to leave Amsterdam and move to Mexico.
Before they left I was over at their place for a delicious taco dinner. They mentioned that they were planning to get rid of most of their stuff and asked if I wanted to buy some of it off them. Stuff like a plant shop’s worth of happy, leafy, thriving green plants (!), kitchen pots and pans, bowls and plates, spices, a record player, old hangers, etc.
It was an absolute win-win situation - they didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of listing it all on the Dutch version of ebay/craigslist called Marktplaats, and it would have been a headache for me to get all that stuff separately from the usual different places, throughout a new city, during a pandemic.
Thanks to the pop up shop of Alyse and Daniel, my new apartment is now a verdant wonderland… with plates.
Minimalism for the minimalist.
Before I moved out of my Brooklyn apartment in 2018, I got rid of most of the stuff that I owned and threw the rest into storage. It felt really good at the time.
Years later, I opened up all those old boxes. I found that I did a pretty good job, but that there was even more that I wanted to get rid of.
For an entire weekend I could be found in my new home office, listening to C. Tangana and Toquinho and ferreting through piles of “recycle,” “trash,” “sell,” and “thrift.” I sold some of my old oil paintings from the days when I painted everyday. I shredded and recycled some old papers that I certainly didn’t need to hold on to. I dropped off a big bag of old clothing to a thrift shop.
At this moment I am happy to report that every single thing that I own is in the place that it should be. And apart from the essentials and knick knacks, some books and plants, art and photos - I hardly own anything.
The peace of mind this minimalism brings is extraordinary.
My boyfriend keeps our apartment cold (at a normal temperature for most people but cold for me) during the winter.
When I asked him to turn the heat up he said “well, you’re an environmentalist, aren’t you?”
I put on an extra chunky sweater and knee socks.
Apart from freezing in the name of environmental justice (FYI, women need the heat to be about 2.5 degrees higher than men) here are some things that we considered must do’s when we moved in:
We bought 100% renewable wind energy for our home. The Dutch make it super easy, and even sent us a photo of the family farm where “our” windmill is located. Every country should have energy providers like this. It feels like the future here.
There is a little light-activated monster that lives in our refrigerator and yells at us in Japanese when it’s open for too long. Yes, this made my precious knick knack list. Thanks for the awesome gift 4 years ago, Phoebe.
Water-saving shower heads were already installed in our place. Another win for the Netherlands. We thankfully don’t have problems with fresh water given that Amsterdam is literally in the middle of the North Sea. Obviously, that brings other problems.
We have a organic waste bin in our kitchen for scraps. We’re researching the best composting system set up and will soon put those scraps to work to benefit our balcony plants (tomatoes! kale!). I’ll send you photos in the summer. If you compost and have suggestions, we’re all ears.
Something that we’re looking into is how to get groceries here without the oodles of plastic that they come wrapped in. For instance, every single pepper in the supermarket is shrink wrapped. It makes me twitch. There are specialty vegetable and salad stands that we’re going to explore, as well as some CSAs (community supported agriculture, AKA direct-from-farmer boxes of veggies). If you live in the Netherlands or a country with a similar plastic problem, how do you get around all the plastic?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first DTE installment in 2021.
What are you working on at home these days? What are your weekend projects? How are you making your home green?
Reply in the comments or to this email and I’ll write back.
To your week yelling “KONNICHIWA!” every time you open the fridge,
*Yes, I called my two weeks of voluntarily brainwashing myself in Spanish a “vacation.” I have a habit of investing my time off into skills acquisition. I absolutely love learning.