Frugal Living: Less is More in This California Home

Less is more for actress Joelle Carter and her family. Their Los Angeles home focuses on health and frugality, rather than Hollywood glamour

Joelle and daugther

Joelle and her 4-year-old daughter tend one of several raised garden beds in the home’s backyard. The many outdoor living spaces make the small home feel larger, and growing and preparing their own food is one of Joelle’s family’s favorite ways to bond.

Photo by Annie McElwain

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In Hollywood, bigger is better. Yet for actress Joelle Carter, simplicity is the key to living the good life. After becoming parents five years ago, Joelle and her husband, Andy, decided to ramp up their efforts to live and eat well, and they’ve created a life that’s tied to nature—from the food they grow in their garden to the herbal medicines they use for everything from calming allergy symptoms to traveling without stress. “When you’re responsible for something as precious as a life, you start thinking about the world they’re living in,” she says.

Happy Home

Although she lives a decidedly un-Hollywood life, Joelle has been acting for years. Her debut was in an episode of “Law & Order” in 1996, and she’s made appearances in classic films such as “American Pie 2” and “High Fidelity.” Now a wife, mother and fixture on FX’s hit show “Justified,” Joelle’s life is busier than ever.

Despite that, Joelle and Andy don’t choose to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills. Instead, they lead a quiet life in a small, cozy and cheerful home where they spend much of their free time gardening and relaxing as a family.

“We pretty much occupy every inch of space in our house,” Joelle says. “We have a lot of outdoor living space, so it makes our home feel bigger.” Their multilevel backyard includes an umbrella-covered picnic table, several raised garden beds, a fish pond and concrete pavers. Stairs lead to a balcony with a breakfast table and chairs, attached to the home by sliding glass doors. Thanks to the temperate climate, Joelle and her family can step out to the backyard any time of year as easily as they walk from room to room. “We really have made a wonderful getaway in our backyard,” she says.

Joelle also lives by the “less is more” mantra when it comes to energy use—a solar panel installation consultant advised them against a solar array because their energy use is so low. “We’re lucky to live on top of a hill so if we keep the windows open we get a nice breeze,” she says. “We rarely use our air conditioner. When it’s cool, my husband won’t let me turn on the heater because he runs hot, so I’m in sweaters and scarves.”

Green at Heart

The concept of frugal living was instilled in Joelle by her father. “I’m not sure he knew he was ahead of his time—he mainly did it because he was cheap,” she says with a laugh. “He would walk the alleyways with our dog to see what people were throwing away, and he’d salvage things. We had a beach house, and he’d find old lawn furniture, reweave it and take it there. He was also a gardener and always mulched our waste.”

That idea of reuse made its way into Joelle’s home, too. When a friend remodeled his house, he found a bunch of boulders. “We weren’t sure how we were going to use them, but we carried them all here,” Joelle says. “We ended up using them as décor around the yard. We also used them and some recycled tiles to make a fountain in our backyard for our little fish pond.”

They built a reclaimed wood surround for their bioethanol fireplace out of lath saved from a torn-down wall. They also installed recycled denim insulation to improve their home’s efficiency. “At the time, you couldn’t get blue-jean insulation in Los Angeles so I had to drive an hour away,” Joelle says. “For some reason my husband thought it would all fit in my little Mazda station wagon. I have a picture of me squeezed into my car driving with insulation packed all around me.”

Good Food

An avid gardener, Joelle’s garden includes cherry tomatoes, acorn squash, three pepper varieties, cantaloupe, eggplant, artichoke and zucchini. And she doesn’t just reap nutritional rewards from her harvest, but emotional ones as well. “There is something so satisfying in picking produce with our daughter, then cooking it and eating it,” she says. “It’s a lovely bonding experience to plant, grow and eat together. Because it gets so hot here, we sometimes plant by the light of the moon. She loves it!”

Joelle eschews chemical fertilizers in favor of techniques such as composting and mulching. “We are conscious of the gardening products we use because we know that’s going back into the water,” she says. “We have a mulch spinner that we’ve been using for the last six months. I’ve been learning about what you can put into the mulch much!”

The garden is part of how Joelle supplies her household with healthful food—one of the biggest components of their healthy lifestyle. They’re committed to a veggie-heavy diet for health reasons, but also because of the relationships between food, the environment and the kind treatment of animals. “They roll together,” Joelle says. “When I first met my husband he was a vegetarian. His main concern was the overconsumption of meat and the way it was raised. It was more about the abuse of animals than the vegetarian lifestyle.”

Today, Joelle and her family stick to food that is responsibly produced. “We eat a lot of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and quinoa, and occasionally some meat if it is raised humanely, organic and hormone-free,” she says.

While most Hollywood actresses may mean counting calories when they refer to a “diet,” Joelle means eating real, whole foods that are grown at home or locally. “I think sticking to your diet is ultimately a choice you have to make,” she says. “A lot of times I bring stuff with me. If I have a 4 a.m. call or something, I’ll have my breakfast at home.”

In addition to its long-term health and environmental benefits, Joelle says eating well makes her feel better daily. “Physically, the way I eat now makes a huge difference,” she says. “I have proof that a cleaner way of eating has helped me. When you start feeling the difference, that’s when you know you’re on the right path.”

Good Medicine

If eating well is the first step toward realizing the importance of what we put into our bodies, the next natural step is in preventive medicine. Joelle is constantly striving to learn more about natural, preventive medicine, growing many of her own herbs for use in both culinary and medicinal applications. “I create a vapor of herbs in a pot on the stove and steam with my head under a towel. This helps open up your sinuses and helps you feel like you can breathe again,” she says.

Joelle also uses teas to help with her allergies and essential oils for their aromatherapy benefits. “We have a nebulizing diffuser at home that puts a fine water vapor of the whole oil in the air,” she says. “Our whole family enjoys it. Some oils are made to relax the environment and some to invigorate it. You can also drop some oil in a humidifier or put some oil on a cotton ball and attach it to a ceiling fan or near air vents for the same effect.”

Joelle’s such a fan of aromatherapy, she packed her essential oils when she traveled to Europe last summer. “We all relaxed with some lavender oil on the flight,” she says. “In Europe, herbs are used for pain relief and all kinds of different symptoms. I hope that modern medicine will meet up with alternative medicine in this country as well.”

A Chat with Joelle

What’s a typical weeknight meal in your house?
We love soup. At least once a week we will wash and chop veggies together. It’s a nice way for my daughter, Luna, to help cook a meal. She is 4 years old and loves to have a job or responsibility. Hopefully something from the garden makes it into the pot. Then we blend the soup and eat. It is quick, easy and satisfying. Chestnut bisque is almost always a weekly meal during the winter.

What’s your favorite way to get away from it all?
We love camping. California provides many day trip destinations or weekend escapes. Even a day trip to the beach is a great getaway. Or sometimes my husband and I will go on a long hike or bike ride. It’s therapeutic to be out in nature away from all the commitments of the day.

What’s always in your fridge?
Hemp milk, kombucha, yogurt, eggs, kale, fruit, sunflower seed butter, hot sauce. Oh, and always dark chocolate in my freezer.

What’s your next home project?
We may build some kind of shade for our upper deck. It’s one of our favorite places to relax and enjoy the view, but in the summer it gets mighty warm.

Joelle’s Gift-Giving Tips

Joelle loves celebrating the season without the excess. She offers these easy ideas for smarter gift-giving.

1. Secret Santa: My husband’s family does one every year. It helps cut down on shopping, shipping, etc. We love concentrating on one person. We often have themes—one year we did green gifts only, one year we all bought local.

2. Wrap Right: My father wrapped anything from Santa in newspaper. I guess Santa was environmentally friendly in our house. We also try to open as gently as possible and save wrapping paper, ribbons and bows to be reused.

3. Collect Containers: I keep the containers that deliveries arrive in, such as boxes, bags and tubes, and reuse them for gifts. Candles and teas often come in pretty containers. My daughter has also housed quite a few dolls in recycled containers.

Gerry Strauss is a New Jersey-based writer specializing in personality profiles and interviews. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he’s been published in everything from TV Weekly to Yoga Magazine.