Categories
Organization self-improvement Simplicity

How I Spent My Vacation

Last week I took the first paid vacation at a public job in almost two decades.

“What do you plan to do?” Curious friends wanted to know.

“Absolutely nothing,” I grinned.

I lied to everyone prior to taking those days off. I had something special planned to mark the start of my 49th year of life. While one day had been scheduled to completely rest, the remainder of the days would be filled to the brim.

I was going to sit down, think long and hard about my life, and make some adjustments to my course.

It was time to get serious. I’d proven to myself that I could actually make money in the stock market; I had seen firsthand that those who claim that only the “experts” could make money in the stock market were wrong. With a steady hand and a serene calm, I could use the lessons gained from a lifetime of poverty to grow my wealth to the point where I would never have to worry about working a public job ever again.

If I wanted to become truly free, however, I needed to make some changes. I needed to simplify my daily existence, review my annual and long-term goals, and organize my life accordingly.

It seemed delightfully appropriate to make these adjustments while on a paid vacation from public employment. I would get paid while I plotted my escape.

To prepare I set my normal reading aside to review the stack of productivity books I’ve collected over the years. I’m working more hours than ever at my public job so I need to maximize my productivity at home. This will become even more urgent should I decide to take a full-time job in the future. My book royalties are the key to my freedom; if I could figure out a way to grow my royalties, I’ll have more money available to invest towards my goal. Since it is the primary income source I possess that isn’t connected to how many hours I work in a day, I wanted to free up some more time to devote to it.

My question was this: What can I do right now that will simplify my daily life while minimizing expense and upkeep?

The answer: I needed to run my personal life more like a business.

I had become rather disorganized in my recordkeeping. As I explored minimalism, I’d stopped using files to organize my records, opting instead for a system of envelopes, folders, and notebooks that had grown exponentially more complicated as I began to track my research, investments, writing, and daily tasks. I not only had to carry a heavy daily planner to work, I used an even heavier journal to chronicle my thoughts, and I had to dig through a stack of notebooks over a foot tall in order to locate the proper one to record stock market purchases, observations, and other important information. I would spend hours pasting articles collected from the Internet into these notebooks, indexing them in yet another notebook just to keep track. Financial records were spread between a folder dedicated to my writing business, a folder and a notebook for my stock market investments, and my daily planner for personal stuff.

I could free up an immense amount of time and potentially a lot of money if I could devise one single, simple way to keep track of everything.

As my vacation approached I began to get nervous. Nothing seemed to click in any of the books that I was reading. The Internet was filled with planners and organization systems but I didn’t want to spend a fortune; I’d already spent a small fortune on my daily planners these past two years and they weren’t working. I had no desire to throw even more money away.

Two evenings before my vacation, inspiration hit as I was counting the tills and doing the closing paperwork at my public job. My trainer took that evening to show me their filing system. It brought back memories long forgotten of how, as a new single mother, I had invested a portion of my very first welfare check into a file cabinet in order to keep track of my records as I strove to improve my circumstances.

Over the next decade, that file cabinet morphed into a storage center for everything that had been important in my life.

Pictures of the kids? Filed in folders sorted by year. Tax records? Same. Inspiration had its own set of folders, sorted by my dreams. I even kept a series of folders to store my old journals and DayRunner pages. I could locate anything in moments by thumbing through my precious file cabinet, yet I had left that system behind due to years of teasing.

I am no longer the young woman who fell prey to social pressure all of those years ago. That kid has transitioned into an old crone who has learned the hard way that the advice of the people around her, however well-intentioned, is not always the best.

The first day of my vacation, I bummed a ride to Wal-Mart for supplies. Since I live in a flood zone I opted for plastic file totes. They will protect my files somewhat in the event of a flood and be easy to grab should I have to evacuate. I added some file folders to the cart, headed home, and got to work.

I spent the next three days reviewing every single piece of paper I had scattered throughout my home. I tossed the irrelevant stuff and filed the rest. To save time I simply tossed entire notebooks into file folders; as the days move on I’ll break those notebooks down to recycle the blank pages for notes and journaling paper.

I could feel the tension leaving my body as I filed things away. I hadn’t even realized that my old organizational method was causing me stress until I felt it begin to lift.

By the end of my vacation I had not only organized my files, I had devised a planning method that not only eliminates the need to carry around an expensive (and bulky) daily planner, it eliminated the need to keep a journaling notebook as well. I returned to work refreshed, recharged, and ready to handle the challenges of my 49th year of life.

It felt good.

How do you plan to spend your vacation? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Decluttering Minimalism

10 Things Challenge: 20100409

All in all, it has been a busy few months, yet I feel that I am only beginning the journey I began when I started this blog.

I am not eliminating 10 things every week; but overall I am making progress which is the important thing. Already I have a closet filling with items to hand on to my sister, who lost all of her possessions in a move that went awry some time ago and has been slowly trying to regain the quality of possessions that she lost. She cherishes her things and feels the loss keenly so my gleanings are happily going to use rebuilding the possessions she loves, going to a place where they will actually be used (or passed on to someone who will).

The interior of my kitchen cabinets are becoming sparse in comparison to how overstuffed they were when I began.  Soon I will have to rearrange in order to better utilize the empty spaces. To celebrate my growing space I have a small batch of bread rising on the stove. A single loaf that will actually be shaped into dinner rolls to prevent waste—I can freeze them until needed which means that less material used, less wasted yet more enjoyment out of a single batch of bread. Even if I had the freezer space I do not know if it would be practical to make more than a single loaf for just me and a young child.

This morning to my delight I discovered that all of the towels I washed last night were dried on the makeshift line I created in the hallway.  This is a wonderful discovery, for it means that I can use the dryer even less! I may want to consider eliminating it from my life entirely if this continues as well as it is.

Oh, to be free of one more large thing! That would mean that the only real large items I possessed (besides the van) were the washer and the refrigerator!

So far today I have not eliminated 10 Things, unless you count the duplicates and lids, but such is life.

  1. Pyrex casserole dish with lid
  2. Large Pyrex baking dish with lid
  3. Smaller Pyrex baking dish with lid
  4. Two Pyrex pie plates
  5. Large Tupperware bowl with lid
  6. Plastic Pizza cutter (my knife can do the job)

All of these items were duplicates with the exception of the Tupperware bowl. Some time ago I had purchased all of the Pyrex bakeware I needed/wanted, but then I was unexpectedly gifted with another complete set.  He was so delighted at gifting me with something he “knew” I would use (he had been watching me slowly gather my Pyrex collection)!  Honestly, I was so astounded that he purchased me more of something he knew I had a surplus of that all I could do was politely thank him!

I kept the items and tried to use them for other things—in fact, some of the collection did get incorporated into my functional collection of bowls and storage containers, but the baking dishes were too much.  I have already given away several large Pyrex baking dishes so these are the last of my overstock (I hope).

This leaves me with one large and small Pyrex baking dish, two Pyrex pie plates, two Pyrex loaf pans, one Pyrex casserole dish, an assortment of nestable Pyrex bowls and a few Pyrex storage containers—all of which are used on a regular basis. Far from minimal to the extreme minimalist, but the perfect amount for me with the amount of cooking I do from scratch (and the occasional leftover).

It is time to shape the bread, so I must close for now.  I hope you have a wonderful day!

Categories
Decluttering Minimalism

Tossing Your Stuff is NOT the Answer

The other day I about fell out of my chair. Two DJs on the radio were discussing Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix.

What?

I could not believe my ears.

Back when I became a minimalist people thought I was insane. I caught so much flak for eliminating my excess and writing about it. I’ve got family members to this day who are convinced that the reason I tossed my stuff and started living on less was that I was lazy.

And now it’s went mainstream? To the point that local DJs are talking about it on the radio and Netflix has released a show on the subject?

I feel as if I’ve fallen into an alternate universe.

I don’t discuss minimalism so much now. I’ve settled into my life here. I’ve no desire to relocate so I see no point in living with as little as I did for a time.

While compared to many others I own much less than the average person, I currently possess too much to consider myself a minimalist. I learned that I prefer to keep my surplus and use it up instead of eliminating it, so that is what I’ve went back to doing. I also learned that I made a mistake when I eliminated my physical books. I do refer back to my nonfiction collection so not having them available when I needed to look something up was not an experience I wanted to repeat.

That said, I’m still a financial minimalist. A cheapskate, if you will. I prefer the security of living beneath my means, using the money I save to approach financial freedom from a different angle than I’ve done previously.

I just no longer believe that throwing all of your stuff away is the answer, because it’s not.

It costs more in the long run to replace discarded items than it does to keep them if you can manage it. It’s better to use up the surplus of clothing you already have than to donate it and then have to buy more when your current items wear out.

Tossing those excess items only compounds your initial mistake of buying too much in the first place.

I know this from experience. It sucks when you’re down to your last pair of jeans and they develop a hole in the crotch when you’re broke.

So unless you’re literally tripping over your stuff or spending a fortune to rent a storage building, I suggest you focus on what really matters:

Controlling your spending.

Use what you have instead of buying more. Ignore the trends. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. If they aren’t the ones paying your bills their opinion doesn’t matter.

Every single penny you don’t have to spend will take you closer to financial freedom and security. Even if you just stick that money in a savings account or stuff it into a mattress, you’ll be ahead.

You’ll have it if you need it.

I am begging you, don’t eliminate everything you own because it’s trendy. Keep your stuff and use it until it falls apart. That’s so much better than tossing it into a dumpster.

***

Hmm…maybe I should write a small book about this? I learned so much about myself when I explored minimalism but I’ve never really discussed the disadvantages of the practice in-depth aside from this. What do you think?

Categories
Holidays Personal Simplicity

Family Tradition

Once upon a time when Katie was small money was really tight. I’d spent most of my cash on Black Friday in order to afford to give my baby the best Christmas I could afford.

Katie wanted Christmas candy that year. In order to keep her happy I promised her that on the day after Christmas, once candy went on clearance, we would stock up and eat until we couldn’t.

True to my word we went out the next day. We not only bought several boxes of clearance Christmas candy; I also stumbled upon a discounted copy of the movie Forrest Gump.

I had just enough to buy it.

When we got back home Katie suggested that we eat our candy as we watched our new movie. I agreed. I had heard about the dorm scene so I made sure to distract my baby girl when it came up that evening.

The very next Christmas we went out after the holiday to stock up on candy; at Katie’s request we watched Forrest Gump once again.

And again.

After we moved into this tiny little house our after-Christmas routine fell to the wayside. I didn’t think much of it until the other day when Katie asked if we could follow our tradition once again.

I didn’t even realize that I had started a tradition.

I dug through my collection of DVDs, searching for the copy I’d purchased so long ago. To our immense disappointment, the movie had disappeared. We couldn’t locate a copy locally so Katie sprung for a digital copy in order to enjoy our tradition one last time.

We snuggled in her bed with the cat. The lights went down, the movie went on…

…And I cried.

Tears streamed unchecked down my face for the entire film. I cried for the purity of Forrest Gump, the sweetness of Bubba, and the pain of Jenny. I cried over the mother’s love for her son. I sniffled over the trials of Lieutenant Dan, the magic of their friendship, and smiled when he walked to Forrest’s wedding.

I cried for so many things but mostly I cried over the end of an era. I cried because this is the last time I’ll be able to share such a simple thing with my beloved daughter and I cried over the fact that I’d inadvertently created a tradition during her childhood that she had grown to cherish.

The tears of this mother are still falling as I type.

***

Do you have any traditions? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Car-Free Finances Frugality Housing

Frugality and the Pareto Principle

According to the 80/20 Principle, 20 percent of actions will provide 80 percent of results. This is especially true when it comes to frugality.

When you break it down the majority of money I personally save falls into two main categories: housing and auto. By renting a one-bedroom house in a less than ideal area, I saved $200 a month back when I first moved here in 2011. Since rental prices have went up slightly since then I’ve saved even more.

By allowing my daughter to become my roommate instead of simply encouraging her to move into her own place I increased my savings even more by halving my already low expenses. While this also has the added benefit of providing my daughter with a safe place to live at a price she can definitely afford (while teaching her how to manage money), that is simply an added bonus.

Eliminating my vehicle saved me another thousand dollars a year. While I didn’t have the burden of a car payment (or the cost of the full-coverage insurance that comes along with it), that savings has added up as well.

I manage to save $5,000 a year on just these two expenses alone. The other little frugal decisions I’ve made pale in comparision. To be blunt, I would either have to take a second job (I would need to work an additional 34 weeks a year at my current $150 a week public job income) or locate a position that paid twice the hourly wage that I currently earn if it were not for the money I save in these two areas if I didn’t want to reduce my standard of living.

If you are serious about saving money I urge you to give these numbers serious consideration. While eating out less, eliminating phone service, cancelling subscription services, and other things do save money, you will receive higher savings if you focus on just these two areas of your life.

Running the numbers has shown me that making your own laundry detergent and simply living on less is not enough if you want and need to save serious money. It’s the big expenses that really destroy your budget. However, if you are interested in paring your expenses even further, I urge you to check out my books The Shoestring Girl and The Minimalist Cleaning Method.

Have you ever analyzed where the bulk of your money goes? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Finances Inspiration Investments Simplicity

The Magic of Time

I moved to this house in April 2011. In the fence row of the front yard was a little sapling beside my front gate.

My friend Mr. A wanted to chop it down. I told him to leave it; it would grow into a fence post eventually. That sapling was so insignificant that I never even bothered to photograph it. I finally located a photo of it I snapped a year later when we acquired Lilly. You can see it on the right-hand side if you look closely. It’s growing alongside the post that the front gate is attached to.

I’ve never really thought much about that sapling over the years; it was just there. A few neighbors have commented on how shady my yard stays, how private it is now but that’s about it.

Until this morning.

I woke up, and as is my habit I brewed my morning coffee and sat on the porch sipping the first cup while my dogs had their morning sniff/potty break.

That was when I finally saw it, I raced inside to grab my camera:

That tiny little inconsequential sapling is now a luxurious tree.

A small insignificant incident in my life culminated in this moment. More than anything that has happened in the seven years I’ve lived in this tiny home, that tree represents the changes I’ve experienced in my life.

It wasn’t the only sapling I saved over the years. I propped up the tiny survivor of a hollyhock bush on the left corner of my yard after the local water company decimated the primary bush in my neighbor’s front yard. A year or so after that a child of that bush appeared near the area where I keep my trash can. A sapling I preserved that doesn’t appear in this photo grew into a mulberry tree. The squirrels are grateful for that one since it feeds them. They hop from the branches of the one I photographed into the branches of the mulberry tree whenever they want a snack.

Maybe this is why I’ve grown so attached to this little house over the years. I’ve established roots. For the first time in my life I can sit on my porch and say “that tree was just a sapling when I moved here.” For the first time in my life I can look out and actually, physically see the fruits of my labor.

The magic of it is that I really didn’t do much. I just let it grow, and now look at it!

There is a lesson in that tree. Small actions can have a huge impact on our lives over time. A blog I created on a lark developed into a business. A book I wrote for my aunt became another and another until the royalties grew enough to support us for several years.

The royalties from those books, as I invest the money, will support me again in the future as my hair continues to grey.

Baby steps. It works.

Categories
Productivity Simplicity

Lazy Yet Productive

My days off were split up this week so instead of resting the first day and working on my house the next I was forced to get creative.

My challenge was made even worse when I woke up on my day off feeling lethargic with a scratchy throat. I’ve pushed myself far too hard these past few weeks and my body was paying the price. I still had stuff to do, however, so I decided to power on.

My first order of business was to eliminate distractions. I turned off the Internet and disconnected my gadgets. I did not want or need the temptation to go online to distract me.

My next order of business was to create my task list. I noticed with a tired sigh that it was a long one. I’ve let things slide around here lately.

I picked one small item on my list and did it. I still had a bit of energy left so I knocked out a few more of the simpler tasks. Satisfied that I had made some progress, I read for a while and then took a short nap.

I repeated the process all day. Complete a couple of tasks, read, rest, repeat. I made the deliberate decision to postpone several energy-intensive tasks but I accomplished quite a bit nonetheless. Even better, my slow, deliberate pace allowed my body to recover a bit while teaching me an important lesson:

It is possible to be both lazy and productive if you use your time wisely.

While I didn’t tackle the physically intensive tasks on my list I was satisfied with my progress just the same. I could have powered through and worked through the entire list but I would have suffered for it the next day. I see no logic in being deliberately stupid. I have to pace myself.

Have you ever had to force yourself to slow down? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Decluttering Minimalism

Evaluating My Possessions

My daughter and I make a point of going through all of our possessions at least once a year. This allows us to refresh our memory about the items we own, reorganize these items to better accommodate our current life, and to figure out what we need to buy (or not buy) for the coming year.

As we were sorting through one section my daughter held up a tennis racket. “Where did you get this?” she asked.

“I thought it was yours,” I replied.

Katie chuckled. “Me, play tennis? You’re joking, right?”

I thought for a moment. “Maybe Little D brought it over to play with when he spends the night,” I suggested, naming my grandson.

“If he did, I’ve never seen him use it,” Katie replied.

“Fair enough.”

With that, we eliminated the mystery tennis racket from our life. There’s no logic in keeping something that never gets used!

Regardless of how much or little you own, everyone should go through their possessions occasionally to make sure that they aren’t holding on to things they don’t need or use. Why store something if you don’t have to? Owning things for the sake of owning them is just plain stupid. Why spend your precious time and money hoarding useless crap?

This week’s challenge is simple. Go through one area of your home and eliminate everything you don’t need and use, then share the story of your success in the comments below.

Have a great day!

Categories
Car-Free Frugality

The Luxury of a Vehicle

A few weeks ago a friend asked for some help. He needed to locate a vehicle that would start and run for $1,000 or less–in two weeks.

Considering that my days off rarely match up to the friend in question I considered this an almost impossible task. Not only can it take months to stumble on the perfect deal, the absolute best bargains are on vehicles that need immediate repair before they can be driven.

My friend vetoed those outright.

As we inched closer to the deadline I found myself having to reject vehicles that I would personally buy if I were shopping for myself. Vehicles that need some work can be bought for a song if you know how to do it. That was how I acquired the last van I owned. I paid $500 for it when the transmission went out and had a rebuilt one installed. For $2,000 I ended up with a vehicle that blue-booked for twice that amount and drove it for many years.

"You know, you may not be able to afford the luxury of a vehicle right now," I consoled after the last round of inspections failed to locate something suitable. "You could always walk to work and save up some more money while you look for something you like. It would be tough but you live close enough to your job to manage it."

He gave me the look that one reserves for the crud on the bottom of their shoe. "Cars are not luxuries," he sniffed. "Not if you actually go places."

I didn’t know whether to laugh or be insulted. While I understood that my friend was scared, what he didn’t understand is that in some cases a car is a luxury. When you live in town within walking distance to work and stores you can live without a vehicle, especially in this age of Internet commerce. I know; I’ve done it for years.

Unfortunately, most people have been brainwashed into believing that a vehicle is a necessity regardless of circumstances. I’ve seen folks go without food or hit up charities just to make their car payment.

"Well unless you get really lucky you might just have to," I countered gently.

Fortunately for my friend a few days later we struck paydirt. We located a car being sold for a song that was in desperate need of some tires and cosmetic work. We limped the car to a repair shop, scored a used set of rubber, and went on with our lives.

"You know, you should really buy yourself a car," my friend counseled when he caught me walking to work in the rain several days later. "It makes no sense to walk in the rain when you can afford not to."

"I’ll think about it," I replied as we said farewell. I would rather save money for the future instead of spending it on repairs, insurance, and the myriad other costs that come hand in hand with vehicle ownership. While I might buy another car some day, for the moment I am content.

What is the one thing your friends consider essential that you do not? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Finances Frugality Simplicity

No Regrets

Now that the kid has graduated from high school, what do I do now? My whole focus these past decades has been caring for her.

So now that she’s engaged, that her life is heading in a direction different from mine, it is time to start thinking hard about my next step. Do I want to continue as I am? If not, what do I want to change?

I know I prefer a simpler life, but I also know that I don’t want to take a chance on history repeating itself. Those lean years continue to haunt me. I don’t ever want to experience that again!

It is time to hit the drawing board, to figure out my next big goal in life. Before I do that, however, I want to share something with my haters.

For those who told me that I was lazy, who complained that the only reason I wanted to live on less was to avoid working, you can kiss my lily white ass. I wanted to spend as much time with my daughter as possible but in order to do that I had to stretch my money as far as it could go. It’s kinda hard to spend time with your kids when you’re working your ass off.

I lived on less, worked less, simply so that I could enjoy the fleeting time I had with my daughter, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about that. I also shared my skills to help others make ends meet easier, regardless of their personal reasons.

I have no regrets.

Categories
Freebies Frugality Recycling Simplicity

The Beauty of Old Things

Several months ago my daughter surprised me with an odd request. She had noted that many of her friends and family were giving away their collections of old vinyl albums; could I help her select a record player so that she could play them?

While I am aware that vinyl is making a comeback, the last thing I expected was for my daughter, the Streaming Queen, to want to explore a technology that I abandoned decades ago. She has been so gung-ho when it comes to subscribing to this service or that, taking her music and stuff with her on her phone that I was taken aback.

When I finally managed to stop laughing I agreed to help her. I figured she would quickly get bored and pass the items on to me–and I would selfishly enjoy the nostalgia.

I helped her select a portable record player, get it set up, and showed her how to use it. I instructed her to keep a coin nearby to help with skips and even how to clean the records if they were dirty.

We’ve ended up with a new ritual as a result. When my daughter is at home she selects one of the albums from the ones she has managed to scavenge and plays it for both of us. She gets to expand her mind with older music while I get to savor the blast from the past.

Her friends are rather surprised when they come over for a visit. She likes to pull out her favorite Big Band album and use it as background music when they come over. Considering that most of her friends have never even seen a record player in real life, much less heard such old music, they are usually quite surprised.

Watching my daughter has made me realize the error of my ways. I eliminated my old stereo system along with a huge collection of vinyl, cassettes, and 8-tracks many years ago under the misguided notion that modern was better. While I see no logic in regret, I do see opportunity. No one wants to use older technology any longer. If it isn’t the latest and greatest it’s tossed out with the trash or practically given away at thrift stores.

While I don’t see myself actively shopping to replace my old stereo system in the future, I’ve decided that I won’t hesitate to fish one out of the trash or buy one if I stumble across a cheap offering at a thrift store. I’m always stumbling across interesting dumpster finds so it shouldn’t be an issue to locate a small music collection as I go about my daily life.

If anything, I’ll be saving something from the landfill while reducing my dependence upon the Internet. I will admire the beauty of the past as I carry it with me into the future.

We have been much too quick to discard the old, I’ve decided. For me, that stops now. Do you have any older items that you still use? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Decluttering Minimalism Recycling Simplicity

It’s Okay to Own Things

It’s become fashionable to throw things away. Out with the old, to make room for the new. There are even groups out there that will help you get rid of your things and encourage you to eliminate as much of your stuff as you want.

I know. I was one of them.

In time I realized that the Minimalist movement had devolved into little more than a pissing contest; a competition to the bottom. “I’m better than you, because all I own fits into my backpack.”

“Tough,” someone might respond. “I got rid of my backpack last week.”

There is some good to be had in the Minimalist movement. If you find yourself overwhelmed with possessions, especially if you have reached the point that you are tripping over stuff, you might need to thin down.

However, unless you’re preparing to move house or backpack around the globe it’s not really beneficial to get rid of all of your things, especially if you use and enjoy them.

The trick is in the using. If you have a cabinet full of dishes that you’ve not touched in years, you might want to pass them on to someone who will enjoy and actually use them. It doesn’t make any sense to clutter up your life with a bunch of stuff you don’t actually use.

Now that I’ve decided to settle down in this little town I’ve allowed my possessions to increase as a result of my revelation. I enjoy reading so I collect interesting books when I stumble upon them for free or cheap. I keep a decent-sized collection of unread material now but as I read them, the ones that I know I won’t need for future reference are passed on to friends or donated to the local library.

When I stumble across a clothing stash that someone is giving away that actually fits (and is something I will wear) I add the items to my wardrobe. I discard the pieces as they wear out.

I don’t go crazy buying things but I do make room for things that come into my life that I will actually use. Since I have no intentions of moving in the near future (and I am nowhere near the point where I’m tripping over things), this allows me to increase my comfort level while saving money as well.

You should start doing this as well. Once you eliminate the things you really, truly, do not use, don’t hesitate to add something you will use to your collection of possessions if the price is right (preferably free, of course!).

Just remember that this isn’t an excuse to start buying everything in sight. If you have something that does what you need, use it instead of buying new. Just because you can own it doesn’t mean that you should.

Categories
Productivity Simplicity

Disconnect

As the days stretch into months I’ve gotten rather lazy when it comes to guarding my personal time. Whereas I used to go to extreme measures to have quiet time in which to write I found my days have become a whirlwhind of messages, comments, and other communications from folks both near and far. Every time I would sit down to write I would end up being interrupted, losing my train of thought, or going on some random goose chase down the halls of the Internet.

Ding.

Ding.

Ding.

<Hey, you on?>

<I see you’re online. Why are you ignoring me?>

Random thoughts. Pointless comments. Gifs and pics and jokes galore. The more I asked people to leave me be so that I could write the more they seemed to want to communicate until I realized that I was approaching my breaking point.

Early one morning as the beeps began I found myself missing my ancient Windows XP laptop. It might have been old and decrepit but it had one serious advantage: it couldn’t go online.

I could turn that old computer on and work all day without having to deal with a single person messaging me. They couldn’t, since the computer wasn’t connected to the Internet.

I leaped out of bed and dived for the ethernet cable attached to my computer. Soon it was unplugged and my world lapsed into silence.

I accomplished more today than I have in over a month.

Do you ever take time to disconnect from the Internet? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Simplicity

Life Without a Remote

We don’t often think about the little conveniences that we have these days. While those of the older generation might remember, many of us tend to forget just how life used to be in the past.

A while back, that reality slammed down on me. I was visiting a friend. We were just hanging out, watching a bit of television while we chatted when his phone rang.

“Here,” he handed me the television remote. “Pick out something to watch while I take this call.”

I stared at the device once he left the room. All of those buttons. Some were to change the channels but others, I gathered, controlled other things like the DVD player and whatnot. Completely befuddled, I played with it. I ended up messing up the television for a moment, switching the channel to another device.

I quickly muted it, then figured out how to get the television back to where it had been previously. Afraid to press my luck I left it like that, completely silent.

My friend returned a few minutes later. “Why did you mute it?” he asked. “I went into the other room so you wouldn’t have to.”

“Oh, I was afraid that the noise would still bother you,” I lied. I wasn’t about to tell him the truth!

He gave me a look and started laughing. “You don’t know how to work the remote, do you?”

I shrugged, embarassed. I’ve used a computer to watch movies on for so long that the devices have outgrown my limited knowledge.

He offered to teach me but I refused. I see no point in learning how to use a device that I have no intentions of owning in the future, so why bother cluttering my mind with useless knowledge? I’ll figure it out if I ever need to…which I hopefully won’t.

Have you ever stumbled upon tech that completely befuddled you? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Decluttering Happiness Minimalism

Minimizing Relationship Stress

It’s painful to watch friends self-destruct, to watch them slide down the slippery slope of insanity. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You’re unable to turn away. You reach out your hand, only to have it slapped away time and again. Either they realize they are slipping and don’t care, or they’re enjoying the ride. Regardless, you try to help.

Eventually you realize that this person is causing you misery. You dread your encounters. Instead of offering them another hand up, give them your foot–to shove them out the door of your life.

There is no shame in this. It is not beneficial to keep people in your life simply because they are friends or family when all they do is give you pain. Loyalty is stupid when the person in question bites the hands that feed them.

Minimalism is about so much more than stuff. It is about curating all aspects of your life to bring peace and tranquility. While you cannot eliminate all of life’s storms, you can reduce the day-to-day strain on your emotions.

Today I urge you to look at your relationships. Determine that one person you would be better off without.

Then let them go.

Categories
Frugality Simplicity

It Pays to Keep Your Stuff

In this disposable age most of us don’t think about the value in using items until they are completely worn out. Rather than keep the old, they buy new even when the item they already own still works.

It makes financial sense to keep things, however. The longer you use something the less it actually costs to own it. Here are a few examples from my personal life.

I purchased a small window air conditioner in 2010. I paid $105.99 for it ($99.99 plus tax). I’ve now used that little air conditioner to cool my home for eight seasons. When I averaged the cost over the eight summers I’ve used it I realized that I’ve only spent $13.25 a year to own an air conditioner. If I had upgraded to a newer, larger, fancier one, my costs would have went up exponentially but this one still works (it’s a bit noisy these days) so I plan to continue using it for as long as possible to reduce my cost of ownership even further.

I purchased a van in 2007 for $500. It needed a new transmission but I was able to get it on the road for $2,000 (that includes the purchase price). I sold that van to a young man in 2014 so that I could write my book The Car Free Experiment. Not including annual taxes and insurance, that means it cost me $200 a year ($16.67 a month) to own that van. To calculate the cost I subtracted the amount I sold it for from the initial purchase expense and then divided by the years owned.

I purchased an iPad mini in January 2013. It cost $344.50 after tax. I’ve had it 60 months, or 5 years. So far it has cost me $68.88 a year, or $5.74 a month to own. It is still going strong so the longer I keep it the less it will cost me.

This is the reason why businesses try to keep their equipment working for many years before they replace it. They know that the longer they keep an item, the lower the costs of ownership.

I want you to think about that. Every time you replace an item that still works you increase your cost of ownership. For folks like myself, who used to replace items like computers every year or so, that money can add up but the longer that you keep an item, the inverse is true.

You can save a lot of money just by keeping your stuff.

Have you ever calculated the cost of owing the items in your life? Please share your stories in the comments below

Categories
Frugality Simplicity

The Art of Delayed Gratification

There comes a time when even the biggest cheapskate decides that it is time to bite the bullet and spend some money. I needed a new writing computer whether I liked it or not.

It isn’t easy to wait for something you need while you save up money for the purchase. Every time you see a sale pass you by it burns. I am not immune to that.

I’ve learned to cope by developing a ritual for the process. Every single payday when I set some money aside for my goal I write it down and take a moment to give myself a mental pat on the back. I remind myself that I’m a bit closer than I was the previous week.

When it seems like I’ll never make it I look at the money I have already saved along with a picture of the item in question. I close my eyes and imagine how wonderful it will be to see the item in my home and to use it for the very first time. I look back at the photos of previous purchases to remind myself that I felt the exact same way as I saved up for them as well. While it always feels like I’ll never make it, those photos are proof that I have in the past and will do it again.

When the moment arrives where I have saved up enough money I take a few moments to savor the sensation. Sometimes I will deliberately delay the purchase even longer to enjoy the fact that I actually have the money to purchase the item in question. By the time I sit down to place the order I feel truly rich.

Then I sit down at the computer, look at the item one last time, and ask myself the following questions:

* Do I really want to buy this?
* Will this item meet my needs?
* Have I shopped around enough to get the best deal that I can?

If the answers are yes then I complete the purchase. I schedule the delivery to arrive when someone will be home to sign for it when it comes. When that is done, I prepare a place in my tiny home for it while I wait. I make sure the area is spotless as I mentally plan the unboxing and initial setup.

I deliberately psyche myself up to a feverish pitch before every major purchase. I know that I won’t buy anything large for quite a while so I make the most of the experience. After it arrives I take a moment to just admire it in its packaging. I snap a few photos, take a deep breath, and slowly begin to upwrap it.

This is what I purchased this time: a refurbished desktop computer running Windows 10 with a set of specs that will more than meet my needs. Even better, the system can be upgraded at a reasonable price so that I can keep it in service even longer.

My total price was $325, including shipping. Not bad for a quad-core computer that has 16 GB of RAM. It even has a 2 TB hard drive.

How do you deal with delayed gratification? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Car-Free Frugality

I Have Lived Three Years Without a Car

It has been over three years since I sold my van. I wanted to go car-free for one year, write a book about the experience, and then move on with my life.

I honestly believed that I would purchase another vehicle once the experiment was over. I enjoy traveling on occasion, have family to visit, and prefer buying some consumables in bulk. Aside from that, it gets cold here in the winter; I knew that I would prefer driving to work during inclement weather.

Three Years Later…

I realized the other day that I haven’t even seriously considered buying another vehicle since my one-year fast ended. While I still admire beautiful vehicles and borrow one on occasion I have no desire to purchase one of my own.

What?

I know that I can save the money to buy one. It might take a bit of time but I am a pro when it comes to sniffing out bargains and saving up for big purchases. Money wasn’t the problem, so what was going on? It was time for some soul-searching.

I have to plan my shopping trips now but that has made me a better consumer. I have eliminated a lot of impulse purchases simply by eliminating how many times I go to the store. While I may spend a bit more money when I borrow a car or ask a friend to take me somewhere (I pay for gas and enjoy treating them in some small way as a thank you), I still spend less money than I did when I could go shopping whenever I wanted.

I love the fact that I no longer have to concern myself with maintenance duties. I no longer have the fear that a breakdown is going to decimate my monthly budget. I feel an odd sort of relief when my friends tell me of their latest automotive woes; I don’t have to worry about that any longer.

I also feel better than I have in years. I can walk across town at a decent rate of speed regardless of weather without getting out of breath. I can even jog for short stretches now, something that I’ve not been able to do since 1995.

Even better, I realized that I’m saving a small fortune every year. I no longer have to budget $50 a month to pay for car insurance or $100 for my annual taxes. That might not be a huge amount of money but it adds up over time.

While I am no longer able to visit my beloved aunt as often as I like we are closer than ever due to regular phone calls and Facebook chats, and when we do see one another, we make every moment count.

I get to spend more time with friends as we plan trips together. We both save money by splitting the cost while receiving the added benefit of good companionship during the excursion.

I have gotten better at planning my purchases beforehand. Since I never know when I will get to visit a certain store, I save up the money ahead of time for pet supplies, personal care items, and anything else I know I will need to buy soon. This allows me to take advantage of spur-of-the-moment opportunities when they arise.

The time has come for me to admit to myself that I am really, truly content without a vehicle.

Have you ever considered eliminating your car? What is holding you back if you are? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Frugality Minimalism Personal Simplicity Success

Is Your Life in the Black?

I ran into an old friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for several years so we took a few moments to catch up. My friend announced proudly that he had recently purchased a house, showed me his car, and bragged about his high-paying job. He was a little worried about making the new house payment but his wife had just started her own business selling cosmetics for a popular company. Could I attend her party in a couple of weeks?

I must confess that the conversation left me feeling somewhat small. While he regaled me with the size of his paycheck, the square footage of his new home, and other things, all I had to share was that I had written a few books, lived in a small rented home, and earned minimum wage at a grocery store. The little trips I take to help animals achieve a better life couldn’t hold a candle to his latest vacation overseas so I didn’t even bother to mention them.

I went to bed that night with a heavy heart. Over the past few months even my daughter had told me that she looked down on my simple life; while she was thankful that I had sacrificed higher paying jobs in order to spend more time with her as she grew up she bluntly announced that she might have been better off if I had ignored her wishes and spent more time making money. She would have had fancier things that way.

Was I really such a failure that my own child looked down her nose at my simple lifestyle? The look on my friend’s face when he discovered that I didn’t even own a car spoke volumes.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching since that fateful encounter. I’ve examined my life thoroughly as I asked myself did I make the right decisions? If not, should I start making changes? Should I apply for a job at a local factory where a friend of mine earns almost a thousand dollars a week with overtime? I wouldn’t have the time to write anymore but I would make a lot more money. I could buy a car, save up for a house, buy some nicer clothes….

I was still tormented by these thoughts when the first of the month rolled around. As I calculated my monthly budget and paid my bills I realized something: I could pay all of my bills before they came due. I didn’t have to struggle. I don’t toss and turn at night wondering where the money is going to come from to pay my electric bill. I don’t have to hide a car to avoid repossession until I could make the payment. I’m not driving around on expired tags because I can’t afford to put insurance on my vehicle as some of my friends are doing. I don’t cringe when the phone rings and I’m certainly not in danger of losing my home because I failed to pay the back taxes.

I’m operating in the black. Each and every year my writing business pays to support itself. It has done this from the beginning. For a few years there it also brought in enough money to support my simple lifestyle without the need for a public job. While it may not be able to support me currently it is still earning a small profit.

While far from rich I have enough in the bank to pay my bills without struggle every month. I can afford the things that I need without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. I’m able to splurge on some extras and save up for more expensive items. I even have a small savings account that I contribute to.

And unlike my friend who looked at me askance when he discovered what neighborhood I called home, it doesn’t take multiple jobs to support my lifestyle. I am able to live on minimum wage at my part-time job, which allows me time to pursue my passion of writing. I have even been able to take time off from working entirely over the years and savor the experience of being a stay-at-home single mom without having to sacrifice my morals to do so.

Even better, my simple lifestyle granted me the ability to recover from an injury that would have bankrupted many that I know. It enabled me to quickly regain my financial footing when I was able to start working again.

I may not have a fancy car or a luxurious house. I may not be able to take fancy trips or turn my friends green with envy but the truth is I have something far more valuable.

I have peace of mind. I can go to bed at night without worrying over unpaid bills. I can take time off work to help save the lives of unwanted animals. I have the time to make the world a better place by sharing my knowledge and experience with others.

I can afford to pursue my passions.

Do you live in the black? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Frugality Personal Simplicity

The Wisdom of Experience

I can always tell when Daughter’s payday arrives. She rolls into the house, arms filled with purchases as she hands me her share of the bill money.

I resist the urge to ask her if she opened up a savings account. While I know from experience how unpredictable the world can be I still remember what it was like to be a fresh adult of 18. You are excited with legal freedom, brimming with the confidence of youth. You are so excited to have money of your own that it burns a hole in your pocket as you hurry to spend it.

“I’ll do that next week,” I know she’ll say if I ask.

In the meantime she announces, “Right now XX is having a big sale. Look at my new stuff!”

I stifle a sigh as I examine her purchases, nodding my head as she tells me I should splurge on a new pair of shoes or a couple of bras while they’re on sale.

“Maybe next time,” I put her off. “Right now I’m saving up for a writing computer. My old laptop won’t last forever.”

“You’re just waiting for me to get bored with my new clothes and give them to you,” she counters with a huff.

I glance down at the brand new pair of Converse sitting beneath my desk. In her rush to order them she selected a size too big. Rather than exchange them she had passed them down to me.

I am content with oversized shoes.

“You got me,” I laugh.

The time will come when she realizes that money doesn’t buy happiness. She will look back in amazement at all of the money she spent on passing fancies. She will count her change and wonder how to survive until payday.

Eventually she will look at mom wearing her handmedowns and realize that, while far from rich, that Mother has the bills all paid, money in the bank, and the contentment that comes with having enough.

I just have to wait.