Gift Guide #2: Accessories

Image from Lee Coren

To continue the topic of thoughtful and useful gifts, I compiled this collection of beautiful accessories from small businesses and ethical manufacturers. This might give you ideas of what to give someone who loves fashion and wearables. These are all timeless designs, that go with everything and can be used for years to come. This is a bit of a personal wish list for me too. I can never have enough pouches to store all the small objects in my bags, and the ones from Amelie Mancini, Beanie on Helina and Oats Home are so neutral and versatile. I've been dreaming of this vegan leather satchel from Vegetarian Shoes for ages, so classic! Their boots are perfect, my pair is staying strong after a year in all kinds of weather conditions, can't wait to add this bag to my small collection. I discovered Lee Coren's work a couple of days ago and fell in love with her backpacks, they are so modern, so simple and the leather she uses is vegan too, which made me so happy, since cruelty free and eco-friendly leather products are always so hard to find. I've been also eyeing scarves from Windward Made and Another Feather's jewelry lately, as they both feature perfectly simple and classic designs and beautiful materials.

Hope this list will give you ideas of what to give your friends or family members, who love accessories and value quality, timeless design and natural materials. Links to sources are on the bottom of the post.

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Thoughtful gift giving + a gift guide #1

sasha kretova gift set

I took a little break from blogging, as I needed to concentrate on my work for a while. I had several new products in the works, a design market to prepare to, some personal and financial struggles, that kept distracting me, and as a result, a bit of overall overwhelm and panic. But I really missed this space! Taking a break gave me some new ideas and I can't wait to get back at it. While I was away, the holiday shopping season has gained it's speed, and I can't wait to catch up with my own gift guides and a few surprises I prepared for you.

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with gift shopping and gift giving. I love giving, but I always want my gifts to be thoughtful, useful and friendly to our planet and society. Once it's time to find lots of gifts for lots of different people in a short period of time, this task becomes somewhat of a struggle. I have learned a few things to make this task easier: listen to people and try to remember when they mention something they want, always keep a list of "approved" companies (ethical and eco-friendly), some of which should be local (really helps with last minute shopping). I also really like to have a list of people I'm planning to buy gifts for and ideas of what they might like, which really helps plan in advance and not be caught in impulsive gift shopping. Making gifts with my hands is my absolute favorite, but I yet have to learn the art of planning them in advance, cause they do take time.

When you're conscious about nature and society and a decluttering freak on top of that, getting people to give you gifts that go with your values, might take some work too. I am not a big fan of making wish lists, for some reason (though I love them when I am the one to shop for a gift), but I am a huge fan of getting experiences as gifts. When holidays are approaching, I start giving hints about how great it would be to get a ticket to a theater play or a movie as a gift. Also gifts you can eat, drink or use out some other way, are my other favorite option. A pack of high quality tea, a bottle of organic red wine or a box of delicious vegan chocolates I can't normally afford, can make me the happiest. What I learned though, is that many gift givers don't feel that gifts like that are generous enough. So if you are into useable and experience type of gifts, you need to take time to convince your loved ones that that's what you value and appreciate more than anything you can put on a shelf.

In the next couple of weeks I'll share a few gift guides with my favorite products from small design companies around the world. When I look at these beautiful objects during this time of year, I keep asking myself: who could it be good for, who would love this and actually use it, instead of adding it to the pile of useless gifted stuff. I hope these gift guides will inspire you and give you ideas on what to give your loved ones this year to support their hobbies and passions, their style and character.

This week I'm starting with stationery! That's the most exciting category for me and I couldn't wait to share the products I found with you. These would be perfect for someone who's all about pen and paper. You know, the people who write everything down, sketch and doodle everywhere they go, love to plan and keep their desk stylish and tidy. Know someone like that? Then you might find your perfect gift for them below.

stationery gift guide

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ORGANIZE: boost your productivity

organize boost your productivity

Have you heard about the Pomodoro Technique? I learned about it just recently, because my husband has been using it for his studies and once I tried it I got pretty amazed with the results. Seriously, it has been the best way to increase productivity for me so far. Here's how it works.

You run your timer for 25 minutes, during which you work on your current task without interruptions. When the timer rings, you stop, set the timer for 5 minutes, take a break and do something unrelated to your work. Then you repeat. After you've done four rounds, take a longer break, 20-30 minutes. It's that easy!

I've tried working this way for most days last week and I got pretty excited about how much more work I was getting done. I started with a daily to-do list and just ran all the tasks I had listed during those 25 minute sessions. I did not divide the tasks between sessions, instead I just did whatever was next on the list, stopped for five minutes whenever the timer rang and continued from where I left off when the next session started. During the longer breaks I had lunch, went for a walk or did a short workout (if working from home, I wouldn't work out in the middle of our shared office, that would be weird!)

The first couple of days I got a bit stressed out, cause I felt like I'm in a constant rush. When you really concentrate on your tasks, those 25 minute sessions run really fast, as do the 5 minute breaks. But after a while I got a better hold of the technique and actually started enjoying it. I have trouble concentrating on tasks for more that 30 minutes, so 25 minute sessions are perfect for me, because I don't get a chance to loose my concentration. Short breaks really let my brain wander off and relax and when I'm back to work I'm ready to concentrate again. During those short breaks I usually get up, stretch my back a little, and try to get off the computer. From time to time I use those breaks to check e-mail and social media, but that should not be the majority of those breaks. I'm especially happy that I don't feel extremely tired in the end of a work day, like I used to. Before I implemented the technique I'd get really tired in the end of a work day, especially if I spent it all staring at the computer screen (I'm trying to implement a half computer/half making daily schedule, but it hasn't been always working yet). Some days I'd show up at a band rehearsal after work and be unable to play at all, so I ended up complaining about how tired I was most of the time. Things like that made me really unhappy about how I spend my free time. I wanted to enjoy making and playing music and spending time with my friends and family. Apparently, having enough breaks during the work day does the trick! I kind of knew that, but did not have any proper strategy to add enough breaks into my days. Now I do!

So here is what implementing the Pomodoro Technique did for me:

- Doubled my productivity
- Decreased tiredness after work day
- Allowed me to work longer days, when needed, without getting too exhausted
- Taught me to enjoy the tasks I didn't enjoy before
- Gave me insight at how long different tasks take me to complete
- Increased the quality of my free time
- Increased my overall feeling of accomplishment and happiness about my work
- Increased the amount of physical activity I get during the day
- Decreased the pains that came from sitting or standing in one position for too long (e.g. back and neck pains)
- Decreased the amount of time I spend procrastinating

I really encourage you guys to try it, if you feel that your days could be more productive than they are now, if you get tired at the end of your work days, if you tend to procrastinate and find it difficult to concentrate on a task for long enough for it to get done.

One more tip I'd like to share about implementing this technique is downloading an app onto your smartphone. It makes it much more convenient, than setting the timer again and again. The app will notify you of the start and end of each session as well as when it's time to take a longer break. There are plenty of apps if you search for "pomodoro". I've tried a couple and stuck to using the one called "Flat Tomato", because it lets me choose times for my sessions (even though i try to stick to the classic 25+5), it runs well on the background when I use other apps and it lets me set it to vibrate, which is great for working at a shared office where I can't let my phone ring every 25 and then 5 minutes, that would annoy my officemates too much. I suggest you download several apps and see which one works best with the way you work. Just remember: you REALLY concentrate for 25 minutes and you REALLY rest for 5 minutes after that, and that is the secret ;)

If you try it I'd love to know how you feel about this strategy, so please share in the comments! Oh and you can find more information on the Pomodoro website. I'm still new to this, but I just couldn't wait to share, because I was blown away with the results.

If you feel this isn't working for you, check this post I wrote a while ago about how different techniques work for different people. For more posts on planning, organizing and productivity go here.

2016 planners are here!

I am so excited to announce that my planners for the year 2016 are finally available for you to grab! I've been working on this project for the past several months and it feels so great to finally put it out into the world. These planners reflect everything I value in design: simplicity, sustainability and creativity. I based the weekly planning pages on my last year's planner design, as a lot of my customers who purchased them were really happy with the page layout. It is very clean and simple with lots of space for notes, lists, writing and stickers. One thing I added, are year-at-a-glance pages for both 2016 and 2017.

A request I got from a lot of people was to make the planner in larger size and of course this year I did. I am totally in love with the big size planner! It features extra large date numbers, that look super stylish and has even more space for those of you who love long lists, have large handwriting or just enjoy extra space. The small planner is postcard size, which makes it really compact to fit into almost any bag. It still has plenty of space for you to write in due to its simple layout and no extra details apart from the dates and weekdays.

Another thing that is brand new in these planners are cover designs. I didn't want those of you who purchased planners last year to carry the same looking book with you for that long. Now you can stick with your favorite layout, but have a different design for the new year ahead. Both designs feature my watercolor paintings printed on brown carton at an environmentally responsible printing house in Estonia (which I'm so happy I found, they are amazing to work with!) The inside pages are printed in my studio on my favorite high quality 100% recycled paper, that I especially love for its thickness, which does not let pens and sharpies show through on the other side. As most of my products, the planners are hand bound in my studio using my signature technique, that lets the book open flat, which always makes me and my customers happy, because it's super convenient to write and draw in.

If you'd like to purchase one for yourself or your favorite organized creative, visit my online store or my Etsy shop.

Life in Phone Photos #4

My life has recently been for the most part revolving around work with breaks to spend time with my husband, which does not involve using my phone, so all these photos are about my process this time. It's been a really exciting and busy time, as I am working on two products that are super important to me and are coming out very soon. One is a planner, which I talked about in my previous post and the other one is a collaboration product with an extremely talented textile designer Kaisa and her brand Beanie on Helina. I am super excited about both projects and working on them involved trying new things and learning along the way, which is always very inspiring and energizing. So here are some snippets from my workdays in the studio for the past couple of weeks.

Above: the first finished planners and watercolor textures for a client design project.

I've been doing lots of binding! Freshly bound notebooks for our collab with Kaisa and ready to be bound planners.

Some more binding: fabric covers and paper blocks in the making, before being put together into hardcover books.

Ready batches of notebooks from Tartu Collection and Linen Collection.

Travel-inspired sketches and watercolor experiments.

Pretty packages in the mail and riding my bicycle to work every day (which serves both as a free transport and as a workout squeezed into a busy day!)

Favorite tools that I use almost every day and a bunch of pretty stationery I collected for styled photoshoots.

2016 Planners

sasha kretova 2016 planner

I'm popping in to share a project I'm currently working on and am really excited about. I'm spending most of my time these days finishing up the release of my weekly planners for 2016. I've been designing them for the last couple of months and I can't wait to put them out into the world.

Everyone who contacted me after purchasing one last year have been really pleased with the simplicity of the pages (and luxurious recycled heavy paper), so I kept the insides the same for this year. I went extra creative with the covers this time though, as I thought some of you who purchased my planner for 2015 might want something different to carry in the their bag next year. I went crazy with watercolors and just experimented with textures and brush strokes for a couple of days in a row and then chose my two favorite abstract patterns for the covers (you can see one of them above). I got the covers professionally printed by an environmentally friendly printing studio located in Estonia. They've done such a good job, I was almost jumping with joy when I first opened the box with the ready prints. They look so pretty printed on beautiful recycled brown cardboard!

sasha kretova 2016 planner

Last year I had many requests for a planner in larger size, which is why this year I made them in two sizes: large and small (A5 and A6). The large one will have even more space for planning, making lists or just doodling and having fun with it. It also features dates printed in beautiful large font, which makes it look really cool and stylish. The smaller planner still has plenty of space to write in due to its minimalist design, plus it is compact enough to fit into any bag.

This year I also added "at a glance" pages for the whole year 2016 and 2017, so you can plan ahead or just check the dates whenever you need to. There are also few lined pages in the back of the planner for general notes. The whole planner will be hand bound with my favorite open binding technique, which enables the books to open flat for extra convenient writing.

To be honest, I can't wait to get my hands on this planner myself. I have to decide whether I want to use larger or smaller size though. I promise I'll show you more photos soon, once I finished binding and photographing the first batch. They will be available for ordering later this month. If you'd like to be notified when the planner comes out, make sure to visit my website and click JOIN on the front page to sign up for my very special e-mail list.

Organize: Declutter Your Everyday Life

sasha kretova office

For the past two years summers have been the best time for decluttering for me. Last year we moved apartments and the process of packing as always included getting rid of lots of stuff and it felt so freeing. This year as soon as summer started I got the decluttering vibe back. I sold and donated lots of clothes, rearranged furniture to free up space and sold the furniture we didn't need. I'm learning to be very strict with myself about keeping things: I really think about the value an object is bringing to my life and how my life would change if I didn't own it. Lots of things leave our apartment after I approach them this way and I feel much more free and relieved afterwards.

A few weeks ago I started a completely different type of decluttering. I was thinking about how much time is spent on things that don't matter at all and how much non-physical stuff (digital clutter) is out there a lot of which we own and keep or just consume on a daily basis. When you start thinking about these things the same way as about the physical clutter: what is the value and how would my life change if I didn't own/consume it, it becomes quite eye opening. So I got pretty strict with myself again and here are the things I did:

1. Get rid of social media news feeds

Do you use Facebook news feed for procrastination purposes? I surely do. And even when I am super organized and don't let myself get distracted by it during my work hours, I still spend loads of free time reading the updates. I don't have the urge to catch all the entries in the feed, but I still do consume lots of information on it. So I started thinking, how much of that information is really beneficial for me? How important is it for me to see wedding photos of someone I haven't spoke to since high school? How would my life change if I didn't see those updates at all? You probably guess what happened next. I got rid of Facebook news feed without any doubt. I didn't really want to sacrifice any more of my time for something that is not important. I didn't want to completely go off Facebook, it's a great tool for connecting with friends and family as well as my customers through my business page. I used a plugin for Chrome called News Feed Eradicator, that hides the news feed when you open Facebook and displays an inspiring quote instead. Now I have nothing to get distracted by, so whenever I get on Facebook I go straight to doing what I came for: replying a message, updating my business page or searching for information. I still get all of the notifications if someone invites me to join a group or an event. Feels pretty liberating and to be honest, I kinda grew to like Facebook much more now.

If you would like to get rid of your news feed, but keep getting news from your favorite businesses, blogs or organizations, you can go to their page, click "Liked" button (or click "Like" first if you haven't yet) and choose "Get notifications". That way you'll be notified about the updates from your selected pages.

You can use similar strategies to get rid of parts of other social media that take up your precious time. Think about what you spend a lot of time doing on those platforms and how those activities benefit your life. Think of what you would miss if you didn't do those activities. Then research on how you can get rid of those functions of that platform without deleting the whole profile (or you might even end up deleting it, if you find the whole platform unnecessary).

2. Unsubscribe from unnecessary e-mail lists

When Gmail introduced "Promotions" tab in their inboxes it helped lots of people to deal with all their unnecessary newsletters: they just ignore them by not even opening the tab. I like to subscribe to some newsletters though: brands I really like, promotions I might use or anything else that I find to be valuable information. Recently I realized that those messages are just a small percentage of all the newsletters I get. So I end up deleting messages from my "Promotions" tab regularly digging for the ones I'd like to keep among all that junk mail. So I made a new rule for myself: before hitting "delete", open and hit "unsubscribe" first. Now every day I get less and less e-mail and soon it will be just the ones I enjoy reading!

3. Delete unnecessary social media apps from your phone

Actually I'll rephrase: delete all unnecessary apps. But start with social media ones, or at least turn off those annoying notifications that keep you glued to your phone. I love how Facebook has separate apps for different activities: messages, pages and so on. I used to get annoyed by having to open separate apps. But after getting rid of my news feed in the desktop version, I decided to delete the Facebook app completely and only keep the Messenger and Pages app. Now I can still be connected anywhere any time, but I'm not wasting my time on reading the updates. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to that I went through all the apps I had on my phone and deleted everything else I didn't really use.

One thing I kept was instagram. I love instagram, it's so visual and inspirational. But I did go through the list of profiles I'm following and unfollowed the ones that don't inspire me or bring me any value. No old classmate wedding photos!

4. Plan your free time

So now what do you do with all that free time you have if you are not spending it on catching up with everyone else's life? You plan your free time! However much free time you have every day, decide beforehand on what you'll do with it. Do the things you enjoy, things that inspire you. Spend time with your family or people you love. Cook good food instead of eating take away. If you have a break at work, go for a short walk or talk to a new colleague you haven't had a chance to properly meet yet. Whatever it is, think about the little things you can do that will improve you life and provide value, the things that really matter.

5. Have an activity planned for "bored" time

How about the time when you're just bored and need something to kill time with? Waiting in line, riding a bus, waiting for your train to arrive. The answer is the same magic phrase: plan that time. Have a book with you to read, a notebook to sketch in, music or audiobook to listen to. You can even get creative and come up with new traditions for some short quality time with people you don't get to connect with as much as you wish. For example, call your mom every time you're riding a bus or train or send your loved one a sweet text with one thing you love most about them.

And if there's a time when you feel so tired you just can't do anything, use that time to really do nothing and give your body some rest. Don't open your instagram feed to just browse for a few minutes. Sit down, have a cup of tea and relax. Your body needs that and it will get much better rest if your eyes are not staring at a screen.

How do you declutter your daily activities and routines? I know, this post was mostly about digital and social media clutter, but that's what I felt involves most of my unnecessary activities. Are there any other habits you'd like to get rid of to free up time for things that really matter? Please, share in the comments!

Smoothie of the Month: Hemp Protein Powder

I've been curious about superfood powders for a while, but never really tried any before, mainly because of their cost. I also didn't really know where to start. Most of them don't even sound like something you'd usually eat, which made me even more confused. I did eat some superfoods, like chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut oil. Those are pretty common, not crazy expensive and they are still seeds and oil, so I could guess what they are good for just from their name.

I finally have started somewhere. Recently I became a huge fan of hemp powder. It all started with my new running adventure. This summer I started running regularly and I found mornings to be the best time for a quick run in the park. It feels so good to start my day with a breath of fresh air first thing after getting out of bed. Getting my heart pumping and my body sweating somehow gives me more energy for the rest of the day. Of course, right after the run and quick shower all I want is a jar of fresh green goodness. Now my morning smoothies have also become my post workout smoothies, so I started thinking of how I could make them more protein dense. One day, while browsing the shelves of a newly opened local vegan/health food store, I laid my eyes on a jar of locally grown hemp powder, which was surprisingly not too expensive. I pretty much got hooked right after adding it to my smoothie next morning.

I've heard so many good things about hemp before. It's a really eco-friendly plant to grow and it has so many uses. It's used for making textiles, building materials, some types of paper and so much more. The range of food products that can be made from hemp is also pretty wide: seeds, milks, oils. Hemp is really rich in protein as well as minerals (magnesium, iron and zinc) plus it contains lots of fiber. Seriously, a magic plant. The powder got me pretty excited, so I've been adding it to my smoothies a lot, especially after my morning runs. It doesn't have too strong of a taste on its own, especially mixed with fruit. And it adds even richer green color to the smoothies, which shouldn't really matter, but for some reason it makes me extra happy when my smoothies are rich green color.

This time I made a very simple basic green smoothie using the ingredients I always have laying around in my kitchen. You can add hemp powder to any smoothie you like!

Simple Post Workout Green Smoothie
(serves two)

2 cups leafy greens
2 cups water
2 green apples
1 banana
1 cup frozen mango (or mix of frozen tropical fruits)
2 teaspoons hemp powder

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Find more smoothie recipes here.

Back to School Gift Guide

back to school gift guide

Have you or your kids or your friends started their school year already? Or are you so crazy about stationery that you just use this time of year as an excuse to stock up on cute supplies? I know I am. It's been a while since I finished my studies, but I still get super excited about all the stationery and paper products popping up everywhere during this time of year. I collected some of my favorite ones here, so if you still need supplies for your school year or want to update your working area, go ahead and get some of these pretties.

1. Sticky blocks by Appree
2. Paper Clips by Areaware
3. Shapes Notebook by Sasha Kretova
4. Wooden Pencil Box by Caran D'Ache
5. Wooden Ruler Cubes by HAY
6. Ring Binders by Ferm Living
7. Engraved Quote Pencil Set by Newton and the Apple
8. Parisina Pencil Cases by Scout & Catalogue

And if you still need notebooks for your study notes, I'd like to remind you, that all the notebooks in my shop have an option of lined pages, which are perfect to keep your notes nice and organized, but are simple enough for you to express your unique style and creativity. Find your perfect book here.

sasha kretova lined notebook

Pretty Postcards

sasha kretova postcards

I had a few postcards printed with my designs a little while ago and I had to share them with you! These are prints of my original linocuts that I designed for my latest notebook collection. I love how these prints, even though printed digitally, still keep the beauty of linocut printing: imperfect lines, uneven coloring, missing corners. I find it so pretty how these are so minimal, contrasting and geometric, but at the same time handmade and imperfect.

I framed one of each kind together in a set and put it on my gallery wall of black and white art above my workspace at home. They look so pretty framed! But they can be posted too, of course, they have a standard postcard back with space for an address and a stamp.

For now if you want them, they'll be coming for free with all the orders placed in my shop, cause I love to give pretty little gifts to my customers!

sasha kretova postcard set sasha kretova framed postcard