Minimalism: What Are You Willing To Sacrifice to Pursue Your Dreams?

Photo by Shawn Robinson

Photo by Shawn Robinson

"Touring must be so exciting! I wish I could just drop everything and travel the country." I can't count the number of times I've heard this (or a similar sentiment) from folks we've met on the road. I smile appreciatively and mutter something about how they should, how it's not too late—they just have to create a game plan. Because no, you can't simply decide one day to drop everything and run (unless "bankruptcy" is part of your fantasy). 

"Oh hun, I could never do that! I have a job, a mortgage, I'm married..." they laugh, giving me a friendly slap on the shoulder. I shrug and insist otherwise—while most wouldn't want to mimic our lifestyle, they could still make a small-scaled road trip. Or learn to play the guitar.

The truth is, many of us could be living our dreams. We simply have to rearrange how those dreams look in our heads.

It can't be, "I want to be a singer and make a killer record and have nice clothes and eat out at all the cool new restaurants and have a bangin' social life and own a house and have a big family and decorate my living room!" Because the reality is, most of us simply cannot have it all. What we do have are choices. You have to take a good hard look at your list, figure out what you can't live without, and cross off the rest. To gain, you must give something up. 

Two and a half years ago, Chloe and I made a choice to attempt a music career full-time. I left university and she took a gap year, which turned into gap years, and now she jokes that it's more of a "gap life". Not having a "plan b" forced us to get creative. We paired down and got rid of much of our belongings and moved into a modest two-bedroom apartment with our mom (who left the stability of her full-time job to work alongside us, handling our booking and business emails—THANK YOU MOM ♥), on the east side where rent was dirt cheap. Making money as unknown independent artists is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. We needed to minimize our overhead as much as possible. As writer and minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn put it, "No matter how much you earn, the equation doesn't work if your expenses exceed your income."

I can still recall the dizzying odor of cigarette smoke lingering like a thick fog as I trudged up the hallway to our new digs, shirt tugged irritably over my nose. I remember opening our door for the first time and realizing, with horror, that what appeared to be raisins speckled all over the carpet were actually DEAD FLIES. "I don't know about this..." I told Chloe, uneasily. We vacuumed up the flies, and two and a half years later, we're still living in the place. For what it's worth, I've actually grown a sort of fondness for the cheap, dingy beige-walled space.

Our life is not glamorous. Far from it. Which is why I was elated when photographer Shawn Robinson emailed us about setting up a session, relaying how he liked to "shoot in environments that are relative or important to the subject". I was eager to showcase a different side of what we do—a glimpse into the ordinary, if not very un-extraordinary reality that is our lives. We live on a bare-bones budget, spending mostly on what we need, and rarely on what we want. The fact is, we simply don't make enough income to have extra to spend. And if we do, we put it back into our business. We tour heavily (three quarters of our year is spent on the road) playing house concerts across the country (crashing with our gracious friends and concert hosts to avoid hotel expenses) driving in our tiny Hyundai Accent squished between pillows, guitars, boxes of CDs and T-shirts, air mattresses and a suitcase. Whoever's driving is the DJ (or designated selector of podcasts), whoever's riding shotgun gets to sleep and hold the plastic grocery bag filled with apples, a giant jar of peanut butter and granola. And on good days (according to Chloe) we split burrito bowls at Chipotle. When we do return to Nashville, we come home to the simple living quarters Shawn captured so well: bare, lifeless walls, music gear piled in a corner, mismatched pillows slumped lazily on the powder blue blanket we've been using ever since our cat had his revenge upon our bed when we left him for too long on tour. The cheery twinkle lights Chloe laced in our window shades pierce the insipid room with their warm glow—the soft, subdued light at which we prefer to sing, practice, write and dream. This is where the magic happens: in an unseen realm which holds no regard for external beauty or an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.

When you spend most of your time on the road away from home—living out of a suitcase—minimalism kind of finds you. At least, it found us. On our first tour, we lugged a ginormous hanging bag full of clothes with the notion that we couldn't go three months without "options", and soon learned to dread the tedious task of loading and unloading the car. We also realized that, despite all those options, we only really wore about five of the outfits.

Why did we only wear five outfits? Because before minimalism, our closet was jam-packed with clothes we'd bought on a whim, never worn, and thus, felt too guilty to get rid of. Before minimalism, it hadn't really dawned on us that 75% of the "stuff" we'd accumulated over the years went unused. 

After living a year in a dumpy little apartment and spending those months on the road, we surprised ourselves with what little we could live on—how little we needed.

When we got off tour, we attacked our apartment with a vengeance, swarming our closets like a hungry pack of buzzards. Clothes were shoved into garbage bags to be consigned, along with books, CDs and TRINKETS—good grief, the number of useless, clutter-y TRINKETS. Graded papers from school that hadn't surfaced in years got tossed into a massive recycling pile. As far as we were concerned, the real treasures—memories—were stored safely in our heads. If we came across memorabilia that was especially entertaining, we'd simply snap a photo on our iPhone in the event that we might want to "show it to our kids" someday. This isn't to say that we've gotten rid of all our sentimental stuff, but most of it was excess. We took the time to sort out what was truly important to us, and in the process, gained a whole new perspective on consumerism and the value we place in material "stuff". 

From that day forward, we've thought long and hard about our purchases. Even if it is as trivial as buying a new cardigan. Do I LOVE this? Will I wear this a lot? Does it make me feel fabulous? And most importantly: in a year from now, will this be something I'm likely to toss in the consignment pile?

It's funny: we spend the first half of our lives collecting stuff, and the second half of our lives trying to get rid of it. "Stuff" doesn't really make us happy in a soul-fulfilling way, and is rarely (if ever) satisfying long term. But it's extremely difficult to come to terms with this, as we are constantly bombarded by ads on TV, billboards, Netflix and Instagram, dangling shiny promises in front of our eyes, projecting the potential of a better, happier and more beautiful life. So we give in and buy stuff, trying to fill this empty hole inside of ourselves, and when we tire of that stuff, we turn around and buy new stuff—and the cycle continues.

By minimizing, we spend less money and are surrounded by less stuff, but more of what we actually love. Less stuff = less mess = less time spent cleaning = reduced stress levels. "Less purchases equals less need for income," as The Minimalists say. Traveling is a heck of a lot easier, and if/when it comes time to move, we'll have a much lighter load. Those of you who have read our bio know that we are Earthship enthusiasts, and big fans of the tiny-house movement. Minimalism is also about utilizing space and gaging how much of it you actually need, instead of spending endless years paying off a house that was too big in the first place. Now, if a big house truly makes you happy, go right ahead. We're not here to judge. It's simply a costly mistake to realize in hindsight if it turns out you can't afford it.

Minimalism isn't "one size fits all". While I wouldn't consider myself an extreme minimalist, even my level of minimalism isn't for everybody. But adopting certain practices can change your circumstances (who likes debt? NO ONE), allow you to spend more time doing what you love and realign what you value in life.

As a disclaimer, minimalism is just one component that allows us to pursue our passion without needing to have a part-time "day" job. Minimalism is not the only ingredient. Other vital ingredients include: hard work, dedication, perseverance, cultivating our skills and abilities, smart business practices, the list goes on. We do not want to minimize (no pun intended) the fact that our lifestyle as independent, relatively unknown musicians is not easy, and while we are able to pursue music full time, we still live with financial uncertainty. What works for us may not work for you, and vice versa. No two paths are the same. We are merely sharing this in hopes that you find something of value. :)

If you are interested in learning more about the minimalist movement, I would recommend checking out The Minimalists as a good starting point. They've got a great post on Minimalist Gift Giving to help you navigate the current holiday shopping frenzy. Their tweets are on point, so if you hang out in Twitter-verse, definitely give them a follow.


Posted on November 30, 2015 and filed under Taylor, Life, Music.

Songwriting Sessions: Unbridled

Yo! Welcome to Part 3, the final installment of our "Songwriting Sessions" from the Unbridled EP. If you missed the first two songs in this series, CLICK HERE to hear 'Kiss Me' and CLICK HERE to listen to 'Falling'.

In this podcast, we release an alternate melody for the verses of our song 'Unbridled'. We talk about how we came up with the revised melody, Chloe dishes out a little TMI, and we even whip out a guitar to show what the post-bridge instrumental sounded like when we wrote it, before all the epic production was added in studio. To hear the finished song in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

P.S. Here is the link to our guest appearance on "James Talks" that we mentioned in our podcast:

Posted on November 3, 2015 and filed under Music, Podcast, Songwriting Sessions.

Why I Will Never Enter a Public Restroom Alone Again—Ever

*Parental advisory: content not appropriate for young children.

It was a black night in late August. Windshield wipers swept mechanically back and forth, back and forth, sloshing sheets of rain across my line of sight as I accelerated onto the freeway. I made occasional glances in my rearview, checking for a familiar pair of headlights in a sea of darkness. Still there. I exhaled and quickly fixed my eyes on the glassy road ahead. "Exit roiiight. No worries," chirped my Australian GPS. I smiled. He was always so chipper. We had half a mile to go, but I flicked my turn signal on just to be on the safe side.

As we neared the traffic light, my sister drew her nose forward to examine the illuminated screen on our dash. "Looks like it's gonna be on our left," she announced. We got the green arrow. My tires whirred against the slick pavement.

"You have reached your destination. Windows up, grab those sunnies and don't let the seagulls steal your chips!" I chuckled and pulled into the parking lot. After driving a few more feet I paused, my eyes searching.

"Wait, where is it?!" I asked, squinting in all directions.

"I think it's the same building as the gas station...maybe they're connected?" Chloe offered. I jerked the wheel and hit the gas, flying around the bend. "You're driving like a crazy person, Taylor! Dad and Jack are still trying to follow us, y'know."

"I'm not driving like a crazy person," I retorted, defensively. "I'M. JUST. TRYING. TO. FIND. THE. STUPID. DENNY'S." I slammed my brakes. Dead end. It seemed I had trapped us in the diesel fueling station. "UGH," I huffed, throwing the stick into reverse, "Clearly this isn't it."

"Dad and Jack probably think you're crazy," Chloe muttered as I tore back through the lot. 

"Like they don't already know that?" I laughed, peeling into a spot in front of the convenience store. It had begun lightning, so I swiftly slammed my door and rallied the troops in. A bell jingled faintly as we entered, tracking our wet footprints past aisles of beef jerky and sour gummy worms, past refrigerator walls lined with Monster energy drinks, through a hall with a man taking up a phone conversation in the bathroom corridor, and finally to the long-awaited host stand, shining like a beacon from heaven. We were seated quickly, directly across the room in a booth by the windows. My dad and younger brother slid into one side, Chloe into the other. I placed my purse on the table and began crawling in. "You know what," I hesitated, clutching my bag, "I gotta use the bathroom." The host began shuffling out menus, so I hurriedly slung my purse over my head and backtracked to the restroom. "Don't order without me!" I called over my shoulder, "I'll be right back!" 

I took a sharp left into the inset corridor and noticed the man I had seen earlier out of the corner of my eye, still carrying on his phone conversation. On a mission, I swung the women's door open, letting it close behind me. What had he just said? My brain struggled to piece together the words I had just overheard. Under the florescent lights, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of regret. I shouldn't have come in here. But instead of turning to leave, my movements became robotic. My body was so used to the procedure of entering a public restroom that it moved mechanically out of habit. I heard the echo of my sandals click, click, click against the tile floor as I crossed to the first stall. I moved rapidly, but time—time was oozing in slow motion, like honey through an hourglass. I shut the door, my heart raging against my chest like a caged bull. Because the man's words had finally registered: I need to f*** somebody right now. Hurriedly pressing the lock, I stood there. Waiting. Holding my breath. Staring at the handle. Waiting.

Because I knew. The minute I stepped foot in there, I knew. I knew as I stood, paralyzed in the bathroom stall—listening for the bathroom door and the footsteps that followed. I knew.

They were self-assured footsteps. Footsteps I followed with my ears, then with my eyes as I watched them pass beneath my door and into the stall directly next to mine. Footsteps that did not belong to a woman, but to the man on his phone who I had noticed only moments ago. Hands quivering, I reached into my purse and pulled out my phone. Come here, I texted Chloe, Please now. I waited a few seconds, staring at the screen in desperation. Please text back, please text back, I thought, hoping I could will those three little ellipses into existence. None came. That's when I began hearing heavy breathing to my left, followed by soft moans, "Yesss, mmm, ohh yeahhh..." My skin crawled. This cannot seriously be happening. His voice continued, taking on an eery quality in the stillness of the empty bathroom. I could not make a phone call. I could not wait for Chloe to text back. I could not afford to wait another second. 

If I was able to escape unharmed, then what? I didn't want him to know I was aware he had followed me into the women's restroom; that he was masturbating in the stall next to me. Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Especially in situations where people are afraid of being caught. I didn't want him to view me as a threat—somebody who could call him out. 

So I hatched a plan: I would make it sound like I was going about my normal restroom routine—unsuspecting—and hightail it out of there. Timing was on my side. While I didn't know his next move, he also didn't know mine—or that I was even planning one. My fists tightened, nails digging into my palms. Okay, Taylor. Focus. On the count of three, GO. I shuffled my feet. One, two...thr—

I didn't even let myself get to three. Flushing the toilet hastily, I turned, grabbed the door handle, flung it open and walked briskly towards the exit. I didn't slow down; didn't look back—just kept my eyes glued straight ahead. As I crossed the threshold to freedom, I wondered if it would seem suspicious to him that I didn't wash my hands. Nah, I reassured myself, I've seen enough gross people walk out of a bathroom without even glancing at a sink.

Sliding back into the safety of our booth, I forced a natural-looking grin. "Chloe," I instructed, voice stern through my smile, "Whatever you do, DO NOT go into the Women's restroom."

"Why? Is it gross?" she asked, "Does it stink in there?" In the window behind her, the entire room unfolded before my eyes. A figure strolled into view, loitering on his cell phone in front of the bathrooms again. Every now and then he would glance in my direction, watching me. I turned to face my dad across the table.

"Don't look or make any sudden movements," I warned intently, "But there is a man in a red shirt pacing the hall by the host stand. He followed me into the bathroom and—" I glanced at my 10-year old brother, "and he was being...very inappropriate," I finished, carefully selecting my words. Chloe's eyes widened like saucers. 

"He followed you into the bathroom?!" I nodded.

"I tried to text you, Chloe, but—" she cut me off.

"My battery died," she bemoaned.

"Yeah, I figured," I muttered. "Dad, have Jack cover his ears," I added, and proceeded to recount what had happened.

"What should we do?" Chloe asked urgently, "Should we call the police?" We both looked to our dad. He was quiet for a moment, thinking.

"Let's alert a manager first. Find out what their protocol is," he offered. I nodded fervently, trying to maintain a calm composure while my insides buzzed uncontrollably. It felt like my veins had been injected with caffeine. Our dad waved down our server.

"To be honest," I confessed, staring down at the menu, "I'm not really hungry anymore. Kind of lost my appetite."

"Me too," Chloe agreed. So our dad ordered for Jack and said we could share if we changed our minds.

"Also, could we speak with the manager immediately?" he added as the server collected our menus.

"Absolutely. I'll mention it when I put your order in." He shuffled off. We waited. And waited. And waited. I kept tabs on the man through the reflection in the glass. He hadn't left. 

"Of course, the one night we don't have attentive service," I grumbled, bitterly.

"Dad, we need to do something," Chloe demanded, "Clearly the manager isn't coming." I agreed.

"He's obviously using his phone as a decoy, pretending to have a conversation so he can stalk women into the bathroom," I pointed out, "And I'm just worried if we don't do something now, some unsuspecting woman is going to walk in there."

"We have to do something for the other women he's going to prey on," she insisted. My dad rose and headed to the front of the restaurant. 

"They notified the police," he assured us when he returned, "And I got a look at the guy while I was over there. He had definitely been rubbing himself." Chloe and I squirmed.

"I still think I should call the police," I announced after a few moments, "They need all the facts. To hear the whole situation. From me." I looked to Chloe and she nodded her approval. I signaled my dad to cover Jack's ears again and dialed. A muffled voice answered. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" More static shuffle. "For some reason I can't hear you very well, so I'm just going to start talking." And I did. My voice quickened; heart rate rising as I spoke.

"How long has he been there?" the voice on the other end inquired.

"Um, well...we've been here for probably 40 minutes now. And he was already here when we arrived. So over 40 minutes," I calculated, still attempting a cheery disposition. The man hadn't left, and if the police were on their way, I didn't want to alert him. 

"How old is he?"

"Probably in his twenties, I'd guess. He's in a red shirt and tan pants. Brown hair." I proceeded to give my name and phone number, and was notified that the police would be there soon. "Do I need to wait until they get here?" I asked.

"You can if you want. You don't have to."

"Would it be helpful if I stayed?" I questioned.

"Sure, it might be. But you're welcome to leave."

"Okay. Thanks. Bye." I hung up the phone and exhaled. "They're on their way. They said we don't have to stay if we don't want to," I reported. On one hand, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. But part of me wanted peace of mind. And if we left the way we came, we'd have to pass the restrooms. There was one other exit, but it would require us to walk around the building in the dark rain. We decided to stay.

I tried to make casual conversation; nibble on a few bites of chicken. But the damper on our mood could not be lifted. "Sorry if this ruined your birthday," I muttered to Chloe, and that gave us all a little chuckle. In my peripheral, I noticed the faint flash of blue lights. The police had arrived. A couple officers came in through the side door and rounded the corner to the restrooms. Our dad got up and followed them. We waited.

"What happened?" we asked with baited breath as he returned.

"I think they got him. He must've fled into the men's restroom, because the police went in there and didn't come out," he reported. As we left, I still couldn't shake that uneasy feeling. It stuck with me that night, lying in our hotel room, staring into the darkness. Reaching for my phone, I shoved earbuds in, trying to drown my thoughts with Bach cello suites.

I tell you this story because that uneasy feeling has stuck with me to this day. This is what women have to deal with, whether it be verbal harassment on the street, unwanted advances, touching or rape. Women should not have to live in perpetual paranoia. What bothers me is too often this behavior gets dismissed; brushed under the rug. THIS IS NOT OKAY. We need to continue sharing our stories, calling out this behavior for what it is: unacceptable and wrong.

This story is just one snapshot in a myriad of encounters I have personally had to deal with. I have been cornered at a concert by a man who would not stop commenting on how "attractive I was" and how his son is "really into redheads". NOT OKAY. After agreeing to take a photo with a fan, he squeezed Chloe and I on either side of him and whispered that he "just wanted to get a good feel". NOT OKAY. I have been called "sexy" by men three times my age, and get cat-called on many of my runs, wearing basketball shorts and a hoodie to purposefully make myself look as disheveled and undesirable as possible (so no, contrary to belief, you do not have to be wearing a skin-ripping tight dress to be simply have to be a woman). NOT OKAY.

But mostly, I share this story to remind women to be vigilant. We often get made fun of for going to the bathroom in groups, but I say—make it a rule to never enter a public restroom alone! Also, be prepared. Know exactly what you would do if you were to be attacked. Predators feed on the element of surprise. If a situation escalates, try not to panic. Focus your energy on remembering your game plan.


Posted on October 14, 2015 and filed under Taylor, Life.

Songwriting Sessions: Falling

Welcome to Part 2 of our "Songwriting Sessions" series! If you didn't catch the first podcast, CLICK HERE to hear the birth of our song "Kiss Me" and to get a more in-depth explanation of what this series is all about. 

In our second podcast, we go back to Taylor's very first voice memos from our song "Falling". In it, you will hear an alternate verse and bridge before Taylor revised them, along with our commentary.


To hear the finished song in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

Posted on October 5, 2015 and filed under Music, Podcast, Songwriting Sessions.

Songwriting Sessions: Kiss Me

The other day while I was songwriting, I decided to go through all my voice memos for fun (little snippets I record on my phone when I get an idea for a song). I found it rather entertaining going from clip to clip, hearing how each song progressed. And I thought, what if I just uploaded these to the Internet? The idea intrigued me.

Which raised another question—were there any voice memos saved from the Unbridled EP songs? Once a song is finished and memorized, I usually delete its corresponding memo to free up space on my phone. But if I wanted to show the evolution of my songs from inception to their fully-produced form, finding these recordings would be crucial. To my delight, a quick scan of my computer found those little treasures still lingering in my iTunes! I'm guessing the "Cloud" must have automatically transferred them from my phone to computer....still not exactly sure what the "Cloud" is or how it works (LOL) but in times like these I'm grateful.

So to kick off the Songwriting Sessions, we're starting with our song "Kiss Me". Chloe and I compiled the voice memos together with commentary to give a little backstory and make it cohesive.

Again—to be clear—these are voice memos I recorded while writing the song. It's the equivalent of an artist doing a rough pencil sketch on paper. So expect them to be a little silly, pitchy, imperfect. Then you can listen to the final version on SoundCloud to hear the full metamorphosis! 


Posted on September 28, 2015 and filed under Music, Podcast, Songwriting Sessions.