Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Renting is the New Normal

For many of us, the idea of owning our own home is hardwired.   Despite this, changes in the economy and the seemingly unstoppable rise of housing prices have many people rethinking this deep-seeded assumption.   I always marveled at how people in New York or London seemed free from the pull of home ownership—it was just plain too expensive, and so rent became a fact and a cost of life, like food or transportation.   As this reality sets in, and increasingly becomes the new normal, there are some real advantages to renting for life that are starting to come into focus.  

Flexibility and Mobility:Renting affords the flexibility that owning simply cannot.  As a renter you are free to pick up and go as you see fit, whether that means changing apartments, neighborhoods, or cities.  You can of course move once you buy home, but renting keeps your mind open to other possibilities—like travel, change of occupation, or a work exchange—without having to worry about property taxes, renovations, or repairs.  It is an increasingly mobile world, and renting really helps to facilitate that mobility.

Accessibility and Community:People have been realizing for a while now that community and accessibility are important to them.  Sacrificing things like a manageable commute, or a great local coffee shop, market, or library just to be able to own your own home is looking less and less appealing.  People have been steadily moving back downtown for exactly this reason, but they’ve also been moving to regional hubs so they can walk or bike to work, remain close to restaurants and bars, and have a sense of neighborhood.   

Finances:While interest rates are at historic lows, housing prices are at historic highs—and interest rates will eventually go up.  Buying a house is no longer a sure thing.  The gains in property value might not match the risk, especially when that investment is offset by the numerous expenses that come along with owning your own home.   Renting allows you to stay flexible with your money, and with the property market—moving your investments or yourself as you see fit.

The notion of renting for life does require a shift in perspective for some of us, but once you start thinking a little differently about how you want to live your life renting makes more and more sense.   These are strange economic times, but the biggest and most immediate benefit is a newfound sense of freedom in how we work and how we live.  The financial gains might not be the same as they once were, but we have gained a lot in self-determination, and renting is the living solution best suited to maintaining that independence.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Cook like a Chef (in a Confined Space)

There has never been a better time than now to develop and cultivate your culinary skills.  An abundance of easy online recipes and a new availability of fresh and formerly hard to find ingredients allow us all to easily get in touch with our inner Julia Childs and Jamie Olivers.  However, our cozy apartment kitchens often make cooking like a chef a serious challenge.  But before you go running to the frozen pizza aisle in defeat, here are some tips to help you cook like a gourmet when space is at a premium.     

Organize your Ingredients
Food packing can take up a lot of space.  By storing your dry ingredients in clear jars you can maximize storage, and clearly identify what you have in stock at the same time.  This works really well for dried beans, nuts, fruits, and seeds, as well as for flours, spices, and noodles.  Shifting your shopping habits can also help you free up some space.  Instead of sticking with the more traditional large weekly shop, try to pop out a few more times per week for slightly smaller but more targeted shopping trips.  This helps you maintain a running awareness of what is in your fridge and pantry, and forces you to buy fresh.  Big shops tend to lead you to over-buy, which results in ingredients getting buried in the backs of crispers and going off before you get a chance to cook with them.  

Re-jig your Real EstateThere are several tricks available to help you take back some much needed counter and prep space.  A wall-mounted, magnetic strip that allows you to store all of your knives is a great—and cool looking—example of this.  Another prep space solution is to invest in a slightly larger cutting board.  This seems counter-intuitive, but a larger cutting board can fit across your sink creating a whole new counter space in the process.  When you can’t build sideways, build up—which is why a small-sized, multi-layered cooling rack is essential.  These little racks allow you to cool and rest prepared food strait from the oven, but they can also double as storage for prepped ingredients, or for plates that are in the process of completion.  Finally, maximize your space by using that nether zone between the kitchen ceiling and the tops of your cupboards.  This is a great little shelf to store cookbooks, baking racks, pots and pans, and those kitchen gadgets you hardly ever use.  

Clean as you GoIt was true in home economics class and it remains true today—if you take the minimal time to clean and clear as you go you’ll find cooking in small spaces to be a much smoother process.  A few little tricks can help you achieve this if it doesn’t come easily.  First, peel your vegetables strait into your compost bin, and keep it open and at the ready to sweep remains into as you go—a freshly emptied compost bin makes this much more pleasant.  Also, if your sink is free, keep a small amount of warm soapy water in the basin.  This will allow you to quickly clean knives or utensils as you use them, and to quickly rinse off plates, pans, or pots to keep your area clean, and to keep you up and running.  A cluttered cooking area can really de-rail your culinary creativity.  If you clean and clear as you go, your mind stays open to the process of creating and allows you to prepare your best dishes in the smallest of spaces. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Minimalist Apartment

 There has been a lot of buzz recently about minimalist living.  With increasing economic insecurity and rising concerns about global warming people are choosing not to pursue the consumer lifestyle they had taken for granted.  Instead, these new minimalists are downsizing themselves, and trading in their demanding and precarious careers, and all the consumer trappings that go with them, for simpler and more thoughtful lives.

How to Live a Minimalist Life

Purists argue that to be a minimalist means to own nothing more than 100 objects; however, the spirit of minimalism simply strives to empty life of all things non-essential.  This idea can allow you to really free up your living space—a massive asset for renters.  Those drawers filled with miscellaneous junk can be emptied for good; closets bursting with clothes seldom or never worn can be cleaned out at last; cupboards and storage bins filled with things never use can be reclaimed.  
Minimalist living allows you to claw back some much needed living and breathing space in your apartment—and ensures your next move will be far easier.

Curate your Apartment

Minimalist living allows you to streamline your living space by only keeping what is important to you.  This means treating your apartment almost like an art gallery where you, or your life, are the exhibit.  When people enter your living space they get a clear sense of who you are, where you have been, and what matters to you, as each “piece”—each thing you own—reflects who you are.  A painting, a bowl, a vase, some golf clubs, or a bicycle all have their place in your apartment in the same way they have their place in your life.  This simplicity and honesty in how you arrange your apartment allows you to really consider what is important to you. 

Living with Less Means Living More

The idea of minimalism is that a clearer space and a de-cluttered life frees you from the demands of material things that weigh you down and occupy your time and concern.  By emptying your life of these distractions you are free to focus on what is truly important to you.  This means rather than endlessly cleaning and organizing your apartment you are free to play, be with your family, write, think, exercise, paint, hangout or do whatever it is that really gives your life meaning.  Living minimally allows you to live more fully.

While minimalism might be a rising trend, the ideas are not new.  In the nineteenth century William Morris wrote, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  However today, as we’re increasingly on the move and increasingly in search of who we are, these words might hold even more meaning.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How to Green your Rental

It can sometimes be a challenge to go green as a tenant.  When considering how to live in an environmentally responsible manner we tend to think of the larger initiatives reserved for property owners, like the use of energy efficient building materials in construction and renovation, or the installation of solar panels or low-flow plumbing.  However, there are numerous ways in which renters can live a greener life.  By remaining conscious of your energy use, taking advantage of your outdoor space, and making use of your urban density, you can do a lot to remain environmentally responsible while renting.

Use your Energy WiselyRemember when your parents yelled at you for leaving the lights on?  They were not wrong.  Small measures, like turning off lights in empty rooms, powering off computers and devices, and unplugging chargers when not in use, greatly improve your energy efficiency and save money in the process.  Also, by saving more energy-intensive tasks, such as doing laundry or running the dishwasher, for off-peak hours—generally from seven in the evening until seven the following morning—you can greatly diminish your household energy expenditure.

Enjoy your Outdoor SpaceIf your lease happens to come with a balcony, deck, yard, or outdoor space then you have some real opportunities to live a greener life.  Keeping a small garden, that lets you grow some of your own food, can go a long way towards offsetting your carbon footprint, and towards keeping your local bee population healthy.  Additionally, cooking outdoors on a barbecue is more energy-efficient then heating up an oven—especially during the summer when fans or air conditioners are needed to offset the heat generated by the oven.  Also, the simple enjoyment of your outdoor space lets you live greener.  Whether you are reading outside on a sunny afternoon, or sitting out for dinner with family and friends living outside keeps you engaged and entertained without having to resort to the more power-draining entertainments of television or computers.

Take Advantage of your Density Renting in more densely populated areas can grant you access to some wonderful and environmentally friendly services.  Community initiatives, like farmers markets, clothing and furniture exchanges, and community sales and barbecues offer local and sustainable food and shopping options with little or no environmental impact.   Also living in more densely populated areas can often allow you to walk, bike, or take public transit, rather than having to rely on the sizable carbon footprint that comes with owning your own vehicle.   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Decorating on a Dime: How to Adorn your Apartment for Less

Decorating your living space is vital in defining your sense of home and yourself.  But with today’s high cost of living, it can sometimes be a stretch to find extra room in your budget to spend money on home decor.  While shopping at some of the more high-end home stores or design studios might not be in the cards, there are still several options available that can allow you to truly make your space a reflection of your life.

The Ikea RouteIkea strikes a great balance between solid contemporary design, and great value.  You can find anything and everything at this Swedish giant, and they generally offer their products across an array of styles—from rustic and county to sleek and modern—that suit almost every palate.  Ikea also has more and more delivery options available, making them a great pick for the vehicle-less, and there are also installation and assembly services available these days, in case tiny Allen keys send you running.

VintageIf you are on a tight budget, but still want some truly unique pieces for your home, then you can’t go wrong with vintage.  The past is awash with wonderful style, and wonderfully made pieces, and if you keep a keen eye and an open mind you can find some truly exceptional items.   Antique stores can be quite expensive, but antique markets tend to be cheaper, as you can often haggle with vendors for a great price—especially near the day’s end when vendors are extra motivated to offload their goods.   Another great option for vintage, and one that is more likely closer to home, is your neighborhood thrift or charity store.  Stocked by the random largesse of donators, these Salvation Armies, St. Vincent de Pauls, or Bibles for Missions are all treasure troves for home d├ęcor items like paintings, pottery, plates, and curios. 

The Sharing EconomyAnother budget friendly option for home decor is to take advantage of the increasingly growing sharing economy.  There are more and more online spaces these days devoted to trading, and these can be wonderful places to pickup furniture, art, or anything at all for your apartment.  Through sites like Bunz Trading Zone you can troll through the posts to see what’s on offer, or create a post of your own if you are looking for something in specific.  Trading also has the added advantage of allowing you to offload something you might be keen to get rid of at the same time.