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Starting from scratch

It’s not every day that you have the chance to begin with a clean slate and choose every aspect and detail of your daily life anew. Of course, the opportunity rarely comes without it’s own set of constraints (perhaps geographic, financial or otherwise), but constraints are exactly what designers thrive on. As you may have guessed, that is exactly the situation I have found myself in, hence the recent radio silence. Luckily it has provided ample opportunities for applying design to life, which I hope to share over a series of posts.

Location location location. For me, the most important decision is where to live. Few decisions have more impact on daily life and require a clearer set of priorities. For me it boils down to the following criteria: convenience (access to public transport, green space, shops, ≤ 30 min commute), neighbourhood (safe, diverse and vibrant street-level culture), space (“good bones” and efficient layout, outdoor space a plus), community (close to groups with whom I want to be active, such as friends, fitness programmes, makers, startups) and cost (≤30% of salary is a common reference). There were a number of helpful resources that allowed me to do legwork in advance:

  • “How far can I travel” map tool can help you understand commuting times and distances using various forms of transport
  • Airbnb has great neighbourhood profiles for most major cities
  • Google Street View allows you to experience locations from afar

30 minute commute visualised (walking on left, bicycle on right)

No matter how much you read, nothing will trump having conversations with a handful of locals who share and/or understand your priorities and values. Without help, it would have taken me much longer to find Basefit, understand the joys of commuting by Tube or learn about the Regents Canal. In the absence of local contacts, bloggers and active twitter users can be an invaluable resource. If time allows, testing out shortlisted neighbourhoods before making a final decision is hugely beneficial: book a nearby Airbnb, do a commute dry run, grocery shop and prepare a meal, walk around late at night, hang out in a local haunt and survey the crowd, watch foot traffic. Any role play in the environment will provide useful data points that help inform decisions.

Nesting. Some may recall this famous William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It’s with this mindset that I set out to plan and gather items for my home. My goal is to strike a balance between functionality, experience and cost. For me, that means:

  • Functionality: every object has purpose and a home, reinforce good habits, flexible entertaining space that facilitates interactions, easy to clean/maintain,
  • Experience: peaceful and serene private space, playful and vibrant entertaining space, reflects my design sensibility and personality
  • Cost: spend less than 1 month’s rent on furniture and housewares

Generally speaking, I like things that have stories to tell, whether they’re used or reference local heritage. For example, the UK is famous for enamelware, so I bought Falcon mugs. Flexible, multi-functional furniture is always handy in a small space. Using stools as side tables gives them purpose when I don’t have dinner guests. I also love to repurpose items and use them in unexpected ways. My latest find is a cafeteria tray rack that I’ve converted to a shelving unit.

TheRomanPinterest is an amazing resource for interior design inspiration, DIY solutions, as well as organising ideas. I always use Adobe Illustrator to create scale floor plans and furniture, noting where electrical plugs are located, how doors/cabinets open and ensuring enough walking space. There are several free tools available that offer similar functionality.

At this point many people have heard about “The 100 Thing Challenge“. There’s also a clothing specific framework called the capsule wardrobe, a term that was coined in the 70s but has become popular today with Project 333 among other simplification trends. As a designer that loves to entertain and participate in outdoor activities, it would be extremely difficult to whittle down my belongings to 100 items. That being said, I’m proud to say that my shoe collection is sparse and my kitchen isn’t chalk full of gadgets. Since I didn’t know what to expect in terms of weather and dresscode, my wardrobe is currently bulkier than necessary. In order to put a stake in the ground, here is a complete list of my belongings in my new home as of today. Full disclosure: I still have a flat in my previous city, but I like to think that those household items are being used by the current inhabitants.

Furniture/housewares: table, chairs (3), stools (4), cart, shelves, armchairs (3), lamps (4), throw pillows (6), throw blanket, bed, pillows (4), bedding set (2), framed art (6), decorative bowl, decorative glass bottles (4), storage containers (6). Kitchen: electric kettle, blender, french press, travel french press, cups (6), mugs (6), wine glasses (6), small bowls (6), large bowls (6), plates (6), flatware (6 sets), chopsticks (6 sets), serving bowl set, mixing bowl set, measuring cup set, tray, pan, pot/lid, steamer, tupperware set, cutting board, chef knife, paring knife, bread knife, peeler, grater, tongs, wooden spoons, can opener, bottle opener, tea ball, pot holders (2), tea towels (4), hot pads (2), sponge, broom/mop set, garbage can. Electronics/office: laptop/charger, phone/charger, camera/charger, headphones, dildo/charger, activity tracker/charger, power strips (2), notebook, scissors, stapler, hole punch, tape measure (2), office supplies (pens/paperclips/etc), office supply organizer, art supplies (x-acto/ruler/cutting board/etc), books (2). Bathroom: toothbrush, contact lenses, glasses, toiletries, makeup, first aid kit, nail clippers, tweezers, scissors, towel set (2), laundry basket, drying rack, drying clips, toilet brush, shower pouf. Equipment: suitcase, backpack (2), day pack, camelback, water bottle (2), headlamp, tent, sleeping bag, jetboil, camping mug, camping towel, squash racket/ball/case, massage roller, umbrellas (3). Clothes: court shoes, running shoes, hiking shoes, black boots, brown boots, black heels, blue heels, sport sandals, dress sandals, rain jacket, winter jacket, leather jacket, casual jacket, underwear, bras, sports bras, socks, tights, undershirts, robe, scarves, hats, gloves, sarongs, sports tops, leggings, jeans, pants, sweaters, sweatshirts, tops, skirts, dresses, hangers, leather handbags (2), casual hand bag, wallet, totes (3).

Let’s see if I can stick to this mindset and continue to make conscious choices about what shares my home with me.

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  1. Pingback: One year of deliberate self exploration | with ease

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