wellness part II : going [laundry] NUTS!

I’ve officially tried the weirdest thing ever since making an effort to live a more natural, “clean” and simple life…LAUNDRY SOAP SHELLS aka laundry nuts!


If you watched my Instagram story the other day, you were probably saying “WHAT THE BLEEP!?” to yourself as I prepped load after load of laundry with nothing but a mesh bag of five (LITERAL!) nuts. In fact, I ended up doing FIVE medium-large loads of laundry with the same small mesh sack of five nutshells from essenceONE. I did my warm loads first to soak the shells, helping them to release their saponin.

I got a few questioning messages after posting my IG story…I think some of my friends may have been worried about my sanity. They should know by now I love trying new things, and usually the stranger, the more intrigued I become. I also received a lot of curious, positive inquiries–and I want to share the truth about using nuts as soap.

I was introduced to essenceONE’s creator, Lauren, at the MN Blogger Bash last week (her story is inspiring–read it here). She was one of those people I felt like I could’ve spent hours talking to.


So what’s the deal with these magic (incredibly cost efficient, Made in MN) laundry nuts and how do they work?

essenceOne says:

Want fresh smelling laundry that isn’t made of harmful chemicals?  How about something that cleans your clothes but leaves no residue behind and is hypoallergenic?  Well, let me introduce you to Sapindus Mukorossi shells!  The little guys contain saponin, which is a natural surfactant.  Activation of the saponin from the soap shells requires nothing more than putting them directly in the wash machine in warm water.  Drawstring bags are used to contain the soap nut shells, and the shells can be reused until their saponin content has been exhausted.  Once the shells have a gray appearance or get soft and squishy, they are ready be replaced.  This is usually an average of 4-7 washes.  They are also effective in high efficiency (HE) washers and carpet cleaners because they are a low sudsing detergent.  After each wash session we recommend hanging your bag of shells to dry.

These little guys are soft on your skin as well as your clothes.  You don’t even need a laundry softener.  The shells, when wet, smell like apple cider vinegar but they leave your clothes smelling like nothing other than and fresh, clean.  The shells are anti-microbial and anti-fungal as well as hypoallergenic and perfect for baby clothes, diapers and people with sensitive skin.  They are also biodegradable and do not pollute our water systems.

The shells come from the berries of the sapindus mukorossi tree.  The berries are shaken from the trees onto nets by villagers in remote northern regions of India.  This is a major source of income for some villages and increased demand will provide an additional needed economic stimulus, plus will encourage increased planting, growth and farming.


After washing Everett’s clothes, Cory’s sweats, our towels, my delicates and another miscellaneous load, I am hooked to these little magic shells.

Do a little good for your home and your world — go laundry nuts!



my journey to wellness, PART I : beautycounter

I’ve been saying it since I started my blog, but less is truly more. Less clutter, fewer ingredients, and fewer obligations are a couple things that come to mind. There’s a lot of junk in the world. I want to have less of it in my life, and to thrive on the opposite.

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Every once in a while, I have to slow down and reset.  It’s been a long time coming over the last couple years, but I’m finally feeling like my puzzle pieces fit together. One of the biggest and most beneficial changes was my decluttering a few months back. I’ve cleaned up my eating and physical health tremendously in the last couple years, and am in the midst of changing how I take care of myself in other ways.

I was riding along in the car with my sister one day when she asked if I’d heard of the app called “Think Dirty”. I laughed because of the name, and had no idea what to think as I told her I hadn’t.

It’s not what you think, either…

Think Dirty is an app that classifies cosmetics, home cleaning products, and more according to the safety and toxicity of their ingredients. When I got home that day I downloaded the app and started scanning the barcodes of my products. I considered myself someone fairly mindful of known carcinogens and allergens, especially since becoming a mother. 10 is the “worst” or most harmful, and 0 is the “best”, or cleanest.

I was flabbergasted to learn which products ranked poorly, or really, terribly when I truly thought I was doing the right thing in buying things that claimed to be “green” or “natural”.

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After eliminating a ton of CRAP from my cosmetics and our personal care cupboards, I thought again about what I use daily on myself and on my family. In the past I’ve gone at these attempted changes in full force, growing disappointed and frustrated with myself when I would unavoidably fall short of perfection.

This time I’m keeping myself in check by following a slow and steady mindset. I’ve promised myself to always allow a bit of wiggle room because perfection is impossible but progress is constant.

One of my favorite  brands I’ve discovered since making these changes is Beautycounter, as it’s been a one-stop shop for cosmetics, skincare and products for the whole family.


My college friend Kelly S. told me about these products she recently began using. She puts her heart and energy into keeping her home toxin-free, happy and healthy for herself and her family, and she knew I would love to hear about the products. She sent me the baby wash and a sheer lip tint. The baby wash is PERFECT for Everett’s daily bath.  Beautycounter’s mission is …

To get safer products into the hands of everyone.  

The Sheer Lipstick has been the perfect everyday moisturizing balm, along with providing a subtle hint of color. The older I get and the more I learn to love and accept myself in my natural state, the less I enjoy wearing lots of makeup or dousing myself in fake fragrances.  It’s been great to find a company who thinks about the basics and what can be found in nature, as opposed to crazy colors and toxic ingredients for the sake of changing our appearance.

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The founder of Beautycounter is a wife and mother who devoted herself to creating safer makeup, skincare, and baby products when she learned how UN-REGULATED most beauty products are.

Beautycounter can help us to rest a little easier, because they promise a “Never List”.

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If you’re interested in browsing Beautycounter, please visit Kelly’s site! I’m hosting an online “social” for my readers that will lead to GIVEAWAYS FOR YOU (follow along on Instagram), depending on how many products are purchased throughout the month of April!

Please let me know if you have any questions while shopping!

You can also contact Kelly directly:  kelly.a.nic@gmail.com. You can also follow her on Instagram: @kelly_beautycounter

Thank you for reading along my wellness journey.  I’m excited to share more of my story and favorite habits and products. Permanent change has to happen a little at a time. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when everyday chaos sets in, but I’m hoping with an 80:20 mindset, I can continue to create a happier, healthier life for myself and my family. My mind already feels one hundred times clearer since making the changes I have, and I know it can only get better from here.

attempting MINIMALISM

Fill your life with lots of experiences, not lots of things. Have incredible stories to tell, not incredible clutter in your closets. – Marcandangel

While watching the Netflix documentary “Minimalism” recently, I couldn’t help but think back to my Mass Comm Capstone from my senior year at Winona State University. Our team created a transmedia campaign called “Happier You”. Its focus was to encourage and inspire people to buy less and in turn experience their lives more. It started with the idea that humans, and especially Americans, are addicted to online shopping, and a “more is more” approach. We make purchases to fill us with instant gratification, when in the long run we are left overwhelmed and empty. We ran our campaign using social media and guerrilla marketing. We also held a successful clothing drive on campus and were able to donate hundreds of items to a local shelter.  I felt passionate about this cause and was excited to see how I carried it with me after graduating.

Fast forward six months after college graduation: I was working multiple jobs looking for my fit and a way to survive the real world. By October I worked simultaneously as a photo intern at the Timberwolves, a marketing specialist, and in retail part-time. I enjoyed the boutique environment and being immersed in fashion and personal styling so much that I made it my full-time job. For two years I worked in and managed shops where merchandise was constantly flowing in, and I needed it all, or so I thought. I had an employee discount, so it didn’t hurt to spend the money here and there…


My closet began overflowing. The decluttering I had worked toward by donating and holding clothing sales diminished. I’d always loved styling myself and others, and now that it was my career, it was a whole new artistry and world. Part of my job was dressing up in different clothes every day. I got to find my own personal style, while having fun trying on the latest trends and teaching others about fabrics, cuts and color palettes to compliment their bodies. I loved helping others evolve their wardrobes while gaining confidence.

Fast forward a few years later: I’m married and have an 18-month-old and a baby on the way. I’m no longer working retail, but am doing photography full time. Our home includes an entire room for my closet.  About once a month, I scrounge time to organize my closet room. A couple days later, the downward spiral begins: I rush to get dressed. I throw things to the ground. I run out of time for laundry. I don’t know what’s clean and what’s not. I have too many clothes. I don’t have any clothes. I don’t know what to wear.  The mounds of clothes add up until getting dressed has become a major cause of stress every day. I finally find a day to reorganize, but the cycle repeats itself, over and over again. I’m living in clutter and chaos and I don’t want to anymore. I feel greedy and obsessive for owning all of these clothes, and angry at myself for letting it get out of hand.

I maintain my interest in organization and curiosity in living more minimally this whole time. I organize in small ways here and there, but still feel overwhelmed by my consumption of things.

And that brings us to the present…


Cory and I watched “Minimalism” on our couch together about a week ago. We kept exchanging glances, knowing our house was full of too much STUFF. After the movie was over, we knew what we had to do.

We began in the kitchen. The spatula/wooden spoon/random things drawer barely closed because it was plump full of items we were given before our wedding to “get us by” until we got our own. There were doubles of almost everything. I began making piles: Keep, Toss, Donate.

We moved on to the serving bowl cupboard: same story. Keep, Toss, Donate. The mugs: Keep, Toss, Donate. We made our way through the dishes, the tupperware, medicine cabinet, pantry, cookbooks, silverware, measuring cups, and every other cupboard in the kitchen until we had a table and chairs overflowing with goods to donate. We smiled at ourselves in approval and finally decided it was time for bed.

The next day, I was home with Ev. He kept himself occupied (mostly) playing with toys and tupperware, and I moved to the bathroom drawers and closet. How many bottles of shampoo does one home need? How many travel toiletries? How many towels? We donated numerous bathroom items, tossed some, and kept our essentials. It made me sad to see that we had made so many mindless purchases on “stuff” that doesn’t get used, when I know so many people go without. The amount of money and space we were wasting felt mind boggling.

Once things were more organized, I felt refreshed and much better. It was a new start. I’m far from through, but I have made a big dent in sorting through my wardrobe, deciding to donate a copious amount of shoes, purses and other miscellaneous clothing items. I also made a pile to “sell”, or at least attempt to sell.

Looking at all of the clothes remaining, I know I can do better. I love fashion and living out my personal style, but I’m excited to challenge myself to do that with less. It’s going to be a process, but I’m hoping to get down to the best of the best. I also want to continue to focus on shopping locally and the quality and process of the goods. My trips to Ikea, Target, and Home Goods will be fewer and more strategic, with fewer mindless buys.

Since making these small but meaningful recent changes, our home feels bigger. Every space serves a purpose. Like so many Americans, I think we became addicted to the gratification of consumer newness.  I know we are far from living as true minimalists, but I think the transitions we have made are a great start.

staying true when winter’s blue

Slish, Slosh–it’s the dead of winter. The cabin fever is real, but it’s hard to want to leave the house when it’s cold and sloppy out.


Sick of being pent up this week, Cory and I spontaneously ventured out for an early ultrasound to learn the gender of our second baby.  And, it’s another BOY! I can’t wait to watch our guys grow up together, just two years apart in age. Everett’s love for his mama is unlike anything else and I will never get over all of his hugs, kisses and love. I am spoiled! Cory will be a great dad to both boys, just like he already is to Everett.

This pregnancy has been different. Already well into my second trimester, I have been struggling to feel like myself. Everything is sort of happening out of control and I feel dazed and exhausted a lot of the time. Everett is growing faster than I can document and realize. I’ve been trying to stay in tune with who I am and everything happening to my body by meditating, listening to my favorite music, and giving some attention to living creatively in photography and style (both in-home and in-wardrobe). These small things can be hard to find time for while juggling two jobs, a marriage in its third year, and a growing, changing toddler.

Thanks to my gypsy-soul-sister friend Samantha, who recently made the move from Bemidji, MN to Cannon Falls, I have been feeling much more excited about the things I love. She has a mind a lot like mine; we both crave chaos and adventure, style and creativity, but need some organization and focus, as well. She recently introduced me to A R D E N. Their dresses are unique and affordable, plus pregnancy/mama friendly (AKA all I want to wear the next five months and long afterward). They feel like buttery-soft pajamas.

We spent a day co-working this week (since we both have the option to work remotely). We ate french toast, drank a lot of coffee and got things done. We took 30 minutes at the end of our day together to take some photos. It’s pretty convenient and amazing to have a best friend who is also a photographer. We are constantly bouncing ideas off one another, learning from each other, and laughing at ourselves.

I think Bella is glad that she and I will remain the queens of the house. She’s looking extra fluffy in these photos because I gave her a long overdue lavender bath. She’s my little lady sidekick. I couldn’t be more proud of her and how she’s adapted to Everett (most of the time). People always tell me they think I need a little girl. When I saw our baby boy waving to me on the ultrasound,

I knew that he was exactly the second baby I needed.

Tips for Getting Out of a Winter Slump:
  1. Take a little time each day for something you love – read, scroll Pinterest, have coffee your way,  work out, etc.
  2. Organize/de-clutter anything – the utensil drawer, your closet, the fridge. It feels good to have a task that has a start and stop point. You’ll feel so refreshed afterward!
  3. Know that it’s okay to say no. You don’t have to spread yourself thin and try to attend/participate in EVERYTHING. You are only human. Do what you can.
  4. Love the space you live in–sometimes this is as simple as lighting candles or diffusing oils you enjoy. I’m a big fan of buying fresh eucalyptus at Trader Joe’s for around $5 and letting its aroma fill the house.
  5. Spend time with positive people. Got someone in your life who is full of bitterness, drama and negativity? It’s okay to remove yourself from their toxicity. It will make you a better you for yourself and loved ones who don’t drain the life out of you.
  6. Meditate – I know this can be intimidating and “weird” but my favorite way to get a good night’s rest lately is to lay in bed with headphones (or I go to bed earlier than Cory) and listen to a guided meditation targeted for a deep sleep. I have never felt more rested or slept sounder than since I started this practice. It’s a great time to turn off your brain after a long day.
dresses : A R D E N
watch : TIMEX
*Save around 40% by purchasing this watch from Amazon.*
duck boots : TARGET
*Save up to 70% by purchasing in-store and using Cartwheel*
black booties : PRIMP
crossbody bag : MADEWELL


We had our ultrasound done at Before Birth 4D Imaging by Debbie Dodge. She’s AMAZING!

tomato basil chicken pasta

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I have been on hiatus from blogging the last six months or so. I could list the reasons why, but I’ll stick with the simple truth that life has been busy. I thought I’d jump back in with a quick and easy post from the kitchen! I promise it’s really good.

Tomato Basil Chicken Pasta


1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast

1/4-1/2 c. fresh basil leaves (torn or chopped)

3 garlic cloves

4 roma tomatoes

8 oz. fresh spinach

red pepper flakes

6 oz. angel hair whole grain pasta


2 T. olive oil

shredded parmesan

additional olive oil


  1. Shred chicken. Add 2 T. olive oil to large skillet with chicken, alternate cooking on medium-low-high heat about 5-6 minutes with red pepper flakes and salt.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes, basil, spinach and garlic to skillet, continue cooking on medium heat (about 3-5 minutes) until spinach wilts slightly. Add salt, taste.
  3. Remove from heat and cover with lid.
  4. Cook pasta and drain. Add noodles to skillet. Stir and heat if needed.
  5. Add extra olive oil and fresh parmesan.


stir & enjoy!

@foreverkellyjo  | KELLY JO PHOTO  |   forever golden living