Guiltless Shopping

If a year without buying clothes sounds too daunting, you could try a year without buying new clothes. When you purchase secondhand clothes, not only are you saving a little money, you are also extending the life cycle of the garment. You can think of it as “guiltless shopping.” Consider a few options:

Thrift Stores

There are all sorts of thrift stores – from the warehouses where you may have to dig a little to find the right piece in the right size, to the designer consignment stores with a curated selection of in-season wears. It just feels good to buy a pre-loved item and show it a new life. Here’s a list of my favorites, near and far:

  • Revolver Boutique – my all-time favorite classy consignment store. Guiltless shopping spree go-to. Located on South Glenwood in Raleigh
  • Raleigh Vintage – “quality vintage” from the 1920′s-60′s – you can find them at local markets or through their Etsy shop
  • Father & Son – a 5-story clothing/home-ware/furniture/everything thrift store Mecca in downtown Raleigh
  • Bargain Box – a basic discount store in a Cameron Village basement run by the Junior League of Raleigh
  • Fifi’s – I’ve heard good things about this new fashionable consignment shop in Cameron Village – can’t wait to visit!
  • Goodwill – we all know them, but have you been to the one in West Asheville, NC where you pay $1 per pound of clothes?
  • La France – a fabulous vintage store in Ybor City (Tampa, FL) with the best selection of era clothing – especially 1930′s gowns

If you know of any other must-shop thrift/vintage/consignment/antique shops, please do share in the comments below!

Clothing Swaps

ReDress Raleigh Clothing Swap

Photos by Redress Raleigh

Why is it that you can see so much potential in your friends’ closets, but not so much in your own? When your clothes are feeling a little lackluster, you can schedule a clothing swap with some friends. Or better yet, you can start a pile right now to bring to Redress Raleigh‘s “Swap Don’t Shop” event next month! Bring what you don’t want, take what you want. At the end of the day, the items that didn’t find a new home are donated. I’ve been to two of these events, and I’m already set with a load of clothes to bring to the next one.

Redress Raleigh - Swap Don't Shop 05-19-13Shop your Closet

The most guilt-free shopping is revisiting your own closet. Try that dress on again that you haven’t worn in a couple years, and combine it with a new accessory and jacket. Or, cut some raggedy jeans into long shorts for the summer. I’ve found knew life in many of the items in my wardrobe. Sometimes it helps to bring in a friend, with an objective eye, to realize new potential or uncover new combinations.

Joel and Jessica’s 265 sqft Studio in Paris

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

Describe your place:

Our apartment is in a very central location in Paris. It is a newer building (1968) surrounded by lovely older ones (1468). It was renovated just before we moved and maximizes the limited available space but also maintains a sense of style. It has the VERY rare distinction of containing a washer/dryer, dishwasher, and fridge w/freezer.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

What do you love about your space?:

We love the balcony. The place is small but when you’re on the balcony it’s as big as the city itself. The hardwood floors are terrific. The kitchen is disproportionately large with lots of storage and counter space – great for keeping it cheap eating in. Perhaps our most beloved feature of all, though, is the low profile but highly effective AC unit. Honestly, between the appliances, balcony, and location, it is practically one-of-a-kind in Paris.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

How would you improve your space?:

We’ve milked the cabinets, closets, and IKEA storage containers for all they’re worth but there’s no getting around the fact that it would be nice to have a little more room for hanging clothes. Also, with a place this small it looks like a flood has recently receded the way we have to hang our air-dry clothes after washing. Some hang-dry solution would be nice.

We can’t complain about having a washer/dryer and a dishwasher but, due to the plumbing, we aren’t able to run them simultaneously. You’d be surprised how often that comes up.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

What do you like best about small living?:

We love how we are forced to live the way we really want to live: simply and without clutter or accumulation. We end up spending more time and money on experiences than belongings. Plus we can clean the whole place top to bottom in an hour.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Take stock of everything you own and make three “piles:” essential daily/weekly items (shoes, toothbrush, computer, dishware); need to keeps (second suit, yearbooks, china, art); discardable. Put the first category in a few suitcases/boxes to bring with you; put the second category in cheap, long-term storage; sell the rest on craigslist and trash what doesn’t sell.

It’s like dancing. Over-communicate with your fellow inhabitant about expectations for cleanliness and schedule. There’s no autonomy in small spaces because every move requires the cooperation of the other. “I’ll do yoga while you’re in the shower” or “You take the dogs out while I cook dinner” or “Can you scoot over so I can get by” are typical exchanges.

Keep fresh flowers.

Plan on small-batch grocery shopping – bringing home a package of Costco paper towels would require moving furniture around.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

A note from Nicole:

Jessica and Joel have the most amazing warehouse loft in downtown Durham, NC. In July 2012 they departed on a journey to live in France for a year. I must say, I’m quite impressed that they (along with their two pups) have been able to down-size from 2,100 sqft to less than 300 sqft.

Their studio apartment feels expansive and provides for plenty of storage – two things you wouldn’t expect from a place so small. The bathroom, entry, and closet are compact, leaving the rest of the apartment completely open. Perhaps the only definition of space is marked by the couch between the living and sleeping areas, making a private corner for the nifty twin-bed storage unit. A few unique features caught my eye: the built-in dish drying rack, the long low mirror as a backsplash to the desk, and the bold dash of color anchoring the end of the space and framing a playful painting. The main element that makes this space so wonderful is the balcony and large glass doors/window. Expanding a tiny space to the exterior makes all the difference…and being in the middle of Paris is an added bonus!

Thanks to Jessica and Joel for sharing your space! Since I didn’t have the opportunity to visit, I really could not have posted without your help. It was so fun comparing similarly sized studio apartments – in Paris and in Raleigh. Read/see more of their Parisian studio in Jessica’s blog post.

Photo by Joel Sadler

Photo by Joel Sadler

more pictures:

“Tiny but terrific”

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 1

Over a month ago I got an email from Stacy, a reporter for our regional newspaper The News & Observer, asking if we could chat about small spaces and my blog. I’m always excited to talk about small spaces, so we met that very weekend. Fast forward to this Saturday’s front cover of the Home & Garden section, and there I was! A huge picture of me in my new apartment filled up most of the space above the fold, with the article continuing onto a second page. There was even a headline on the newspaper’s cover directing to the article!

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 2

The community support has been overwhelming! People reached out from all parts of my life, from my parents’ church friends, to my middle and high school teachers, to my grandmother. It meant so much to me. Thank you!

A special thanks to Stacy for doing such a lovely job writing the article. You can read the full article here:

The News & Observer "Tiny but terrific" with Nicole Alvarez 3

A Year Without Buying Clothes

Clothes are a big part of our lives, and can be a big part of our budgets. In an attempt to simplify your life and save money long-term, could you commit to only “shopping your closet” for a year?

Marie is my most fashion-savvy friend. She’s never been afraid to spend big bucks on a fabulous wardrobe must-have. So when she told me she was not going to buy clothes for the year of 2012, I was a bit skeptical. Now, a year later, I can vouch that she did it! Well, mostly.

Simple Living - A Year Without Buying Clothes - Marie Fornaro

Why did you decide to go a year without buying clothes?

There were several reasons, but I primarily wanted to save money. I read about the idea in Real Simple magazine; a couple listed a year-long moratorium on clothes shopping as the best money-saving decision they had made. I added up the amount of money I had spent the previous year on clothes, and it was over $2,000! At that point, I was determined to make a change, and use that money for something more fun than hanging another sweater in my closet.

I had also recently moved to a very small town in the mountains (see her small home) without a mall or boutique in sight, so temptation to shop was at an all-time low.

What were the rules?

The rules were simple: don’t buy any clothes, either new or used, for one calendar year. I started on January 1, 2012. I did make an exception for costumes. Halloween is very important to me!

How did you fare on your challenge? Did you keep your word?

I did pretty well, but I wasn’t perfect. I made it all the way until August, when I purchased an outfit (see below) to wear to Penland School of Craft‘s annual benefit auction- a soiree so fabulous I felt it warranted the purchase of a new dress and shoes. And, I effectively ended my challenge on December 30, 2012, with a modest shopping spree. I know, I know, I was weak and couldn’t wait two more days!

Simple Living - A Year Without Buying Clothes - Revolver Boutique 01

What was the first thing you bought after the completion of the challenge?

I bought some great pieces from Revolver Consignment Boutique in Raleigh- my all-time favorite store. Two sweaters and a silk blouse.

How has this year of not purchasing new clothes changed your habits/lifestyle? What did you learn?

This year taught me that not buying clothes is a lot easier than I ever imagined. When you make the choice to “shop your closet” instead, you’ll be amazed at what you find in there! Also, after making the conscious decision not to shop for clothes, I began to make similar decisions with respect to other stuff, too. For instance, I stopped buying home goods, jewelry, and gift items as well. When I walked into a store, I thought: “Look at all this stuff I don’t need,” rather than “Look at all this stuff I want!” It has been incredibly liberating, and I hope I can stick with this new outlook as I settle back into life in the Big City of Raleigh, NC.

What’s your next challenge?

This year, I’m challenging myself to add something to my life instead of eliminating. I’d like to spend the year nurturing relationships with the people who are dear to me. Removing excess from my life a little bit at a time, starting with bad shopping habits, has cast a sharp light on what is most important.

Simple Living - A Year Without Buying Clothes - Revolver Boutique 02

Shannon’s 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 01

  • size: 770 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: Chelsea, NYC
  • inhabitants: Shannon Curran, her husband, and two cats

Shannon Curran Plans

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 03

Describe your place:

I had the pleasure of meeting “Aunt Shannon” in December while visiting her niece, my good friend Elizabeth. I had heard about this loft many times… including rumors of a previous resident, Cindi Lauper. As I toured the first Manhattan apartment I had ever visited, I was bursting with excitement. The most clever use of small space comes out of necessity and intent. This petite, 3-story apartment, is amazing!

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 06

What do you love about your space?:

“The fireplace, roof garden, 1/2 moon window in the dining room, and all the textures.”

Her fireplace is a work of art in itself, with detailed brickwork stretching the full height of the double story living space. Two levels of spiral stairs lead to a private rooftop terrace overlooking Chelsea. The warm wood floors, walls, and planters, contrast against the urban surroundings. One of the planters on the terrace disguises three low windows that cleverly bring light into the bedroom below. It was the rooftop that sold her on the apartment, back when the neighborhood wasn’t as sought after as today. In the dining room, the large 1/2 moon window tilts open so she can tend to her planter, while a long low window below is the perfect place for her cats to perch.

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 05

How would you improve your space?:

“I would widen the circular staircase and cover the wood panelling in the living room.”

Shannon has been working on the apartment gradually, having recently renovated the kitchen. She carved space out from under the spiral stair to create a pantry and provide for extra storage. Custom cabinets fill the excess space in the refrigerator nook. She was most excited about the glass tile brightening the space, and the smooth concrete counter with a deep backsplash as a ledge to keep her counters clear. She’s working on renovating the bathrooms next.

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 08

What do you like best about small living?:

“Less to do!”

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 10

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

“When renovating, steal ideas from yachting magazines. Great creative ideas can be drawn from their designs.”

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 12

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 13

more pictures:

I’ve Moved!

It was so hard to leave my Lovely Studio Apartment! If you know me, you know how obsessed I was with that place. I mean, heck, I started a blog because of it!

But… I do have a greater love in my life: my boyfriend! So when Matt and I decided to move in together, we set out to find a new place to make our home. I had one condition, I couldn’t move unless we found a place that was absolutely amazing and equally as inspiring.

Nicole Alvarez and Matt Tomasulo

We found it! You may recognize the space from a previous post. Yes, it’s larger than anywhere either of us has ever lived, but it’s also right in downtown Raleigh, in a renovated department store, with a lively community, it’s super walkable … and we have our own terrace! We absolutely love it!

Nonetheless, my 300-sqft apartment will always have a special place in my heart. It has forever influenced the way I think about space and life – encouraging me to cut out the excess to leave room for only what matters.

Cheers to you, my Lovely Studio Apartment, and to our many memories:

Window Frame Display

Here’s a super simple way to clear your desk, create a display space, and decorate!

Window Frame Display 01

This window frame is from the local flea market. It was in great shape, so I didn’t have to refinish it at all. I leaned it up against the wall, like a headboard for my desk, to add some interest to an otherwise blank wall. As a renter, I try to minimize the number of holes I add to the walls.

Window Frame Display 02

The window frame makes a great display board. This window has two horizontal panes of glass, making a perfect ledge for double-stacking postcards, cards, and family pictures. The collection can get cluttered, but will always appear organized since it’s captured behind the framed glass. I also add fun sticky notes to remind me of my long-term tasks.

Window Frame Display 03 Window Frame Display 04

I would love to see pictures if you try it at your place!

Window Frame Display 05

Matt’s 960 sqft Downtown Flat

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 02

  • size: 960 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: The Hudson, downtown Raleigh
  • inhabitants: Matthew Muñoz
  • occupation: Partner and Chief Design Officer at New Kind
  • twitter: @matthewmunoz

Matt Munoz Plans

Describe your place:

The Hudson is sandwiched between Wilmington and Fayetteville St in downtown Raleigh. There are great things always going on, and I’m within walking access to tasty food, drinks, and cultural adventures. The space is above it all on the second floor, with my unit spilling onto an ivy-covered terrace. The big room contains the kitchen, office, and living area. At the center of the room sits a well-used, farm-inspired table. A long, book-lined hallway joins this room with the front door, bedroom, and bathroom.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 01

What do you love about your space?:

One word: Terrace. Beautiful place to sit outside, with two double doors that open into the living room, office, and kitchen. Perfect for a book and coffee or people and cocktails.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 04

How would you improve your space?:

Put a window in the bedroom.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 06

What do you like best about small living?:

It’s efficient — just the right size. I don’t have a lot of room for stuff, so I don’t collect much. With the clear exception of books. I LOVE books.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 12

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

It’s obvious, but in a climate like Raleigh, find a space that allows you to keep the doors and windows open for the seasons.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 14

A note from Nicole:

Matt welcomed me into his home in November, and I immediately fell in love with the space!  He has since moved, so I’m glad I was able to capture his apartment as it was. The apartment is amazing in itself – in the middle of downtown, a private terrace, high ceilings, built-in storage, and wonderful daylight. He did a great job decorating the apartment. His furnishings are sparse and were carefully selected, feeling as though they belong in the space. Matt has truly mastered the editing aspect of small living, keeping only what’s important to him – well-designed furniture, bikes, succulents, and awesome graphic design posters. I can’t wait to see his new place!

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 11

 

More pictures:

Elizabeth’s 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 08

  • size: 480 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY
  • inhabitants: Elizabeth “Beef” Bridenstine :)
  • my info: vimeo editing reel

Elizabeth Bridenstine Plans

Describe your place:

This apartment has become my haven in the city. It’s on a quiet tree-lined street in Bushwick. This has been the first place I’ve lived in on my own and I felt I could finally make a space my own. I wanted the apartment to feel comfortable and inviting, and there are a lot of Southern touches throughout.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 01

What do you love about your space?:

I love that each room has it’s own feel, which makes this small apartment feel much larger. I love the parque floors. I love the view of the city from the roof. I love the light in the afternoon as the sun sets.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 04

How would you improve your space?:

I would like there to be more counter space and I think the living room set up could use work.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 07

What do you like best about small living?:

How little time it takes to straighten up.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 09

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

If you have separate rooms, make each room feel completely different from the next to expand the space.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 10

Anything else you would like to share?:

I’m heading to the Bay Area in March and will be a little bummed to say goodbye to Suydam Street. Luckily, a good friend with good energy is taking over and I couldn’t be happier.

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 12

A note from Nicole:

An NC native, Elizabeth is one of my closest friends. I was so excited to visit Elizabeth in December and finally get to see her beloved apartment!

So much about living in NYC is about finding the right neighborhood. She moved to an interesting neighborhood of Brooklyn, Bushwick, to have her own place. While she has lived there, she has seen the neighborhood grow with new restaurants, bars, and an organic food store. She’s close to a subway stop, and can bike everywhere. Bushwick also has an impressive collection of street art. Plus, the view of Manhattan from her roof is absolutely amazing (thanks for the photo Elizabeth!).

For NYC standards, Elizabeth has a lot of natural light and a pretty big apartment, especially since it’s all to herself. She has made a perfect environment where she can both relax and get work done. She works from home for a neat startup, Scenios, and does freelance video editing, so her work space has everything she needs for production and editing, from her snazzy computer to a legit microphone. There’s an incredible amount of storage with built-in closets and cabinetry, and plenty of space to add more storage furniture if needed. Of course, it wouldn’t be Elizabeth’s place without a few album covers and posters of Michael Jackson and Prince scattered about. I can’t wait to see what her SF apartment will be like!

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 13

Elizabeths 480 sqft Brooklyn Apartment 14

Lighting a Small Space

Lighting can make all the difference in how a space makes you feel. The Danes know this well. Difficult to translate directly into English, the Danish word “hyggelig” embodies a feeling and atmosphere in a space – coziness, warmth, low lights, candles, delight, in good company.

Rather than defaulting to overhead lights at night, I turn on a few lights depending on what I am doing, from preparing dinner to reading in bed. This is how I have lit my studio apartment:

Lighting a Small Space - Year Round White Christmas Lights

Year Round Christmas Lights: This long string of white Christmas lights is enough to light my entire studio apartment at night, stretching from the kitchen to my bed. It’s my favorite way of lighting a space. I especially love that in England they call these Fairy Lights when it’s not Christmas time.

Lighting a Small Space - Kitchen Task Lighting and Paper Lantern Pendant

Kitchen Task Lighting and Paper Lantern Pendant: The most useful lighting I have is a simple string of Christmas/garden lights in the kitchen that provides under-cabinet lighting. I hung a paper lantern above my dining table for the main source of light in the kitchen. Functional decoration!

Lighting a Small Space - Candles

Candles: You can never have enough, and you can always find some on sale! I love working on my blog and sipping a warm cup of tea alongside flickering candles.

Lighting a Small Space - Accent Lamps

Accent Lamps: A lamp is an obvious way to decorate and light your space. It took me a while before I found the perfect lamp for this corner.

Lighting a Small Space - Accent Lamps for Reading

Accent Lamps for Reading: I directed a bright yellow IKEA desk lamp to the back wall at my bed to provide an ambient light for reading. It also dramatically lights a special work of art made by my boyfriend.

One trip to IKEA provided for most of my special lights. They have a great selection of affordable lights that look great and are energy efficient. I use CFL or LED lights whenever possible, keeping my electricity bill low.

When lighting your small space, strive for a hyggelig atmosphere!