How Minimalism Can Help You Eliminate the Distractions in Your Life

I woke up bright and early this morning with the basics of a game plan formed in my head. Rather than tackle the excess things in my life at first, I decided to tackle the distractions instead.

Distractions can take many forms in our life. It can be anything from that task that you keep procrastinating on to the massive amount of junk mail that hits your inbox. Anything that keeps you from applying your full focus to your life and your goals can count as a distraction.

I tend to get a large amount of junk mail in my inbox. Every single website you visit these days tries to strong-arm you into signing up for their mailing list so they can spam you. In many cases, that big pop-up gets in the way of actually seeing their content, so you plug in your email address just to make it go away. If you purchase something from a website, they flood your inbox with new “deals” in an attempt to part you with even more of your hard-earned money. Normally I delete it en-masse once a day but I realized that I lost a few minutes of my life each and every time I completed the action.

One by one I selected these messages and directed them to go straight to my junk mail folder. That way, if I ever do discover that I’ve missed something important I can search for it within that first month. After that they get deleted automatically, eliminating the need for me to deal with them every single day. I decided upon using this method rather than unsubscribing from them individually since some websites can make that a challenge. Frankly, they can waste their time emailing me all they want. It doesn’t mean that I have to read them.

It may take a few days for me to complete the process. Websites have different email schedules so I’m certain that there are a few that I missed in my initial sweep.

Once that was complete, I decided to tackle one project that I’ve been procrastinating on. Over the past few months one of the keys on my keyboard had starting sticking and the scroll button on my mouse began to behave erratically. Since I had been in the middle of writing when the incidents happened I’d swapped them out with spares and set them aside to examine later.

Later had yet to arrive by this morning so I decided that it was time to either toss the peripherals or attempt to fix them.

Since one of my dogs sheds immensely, I realized that the issue may be a combination of dust and pet hair. These were common issues back in the day when computers were much more expensive so I had learned a long time ago how to clean them. I pulled out my supplies and got to work.

Thirty minutes later I had restored both peripherals to functionality. Tackling the project had not only eliminated the small stack of non-functioning peripherals I had placed in an obvious spot as a reminder, it allowed me to remove “replace spare keyboard and mouse” from my shopping list. By extending the life of these devices I saved money and eliminated the need to send them to the landfill.

When you consider the fact that it would have cost half a day’s wage to replace them (more if I selected the higher quality that I prefer), I count the half-hour of cleaning as time well spent.

Since there was always the chance that one of the marketing emails would catch my attention and induce me to spend, I also saved an unknown amount of working hours by sending them to my junk email folder automatically.

Since I count every moment saved and every dollar conserved as progress towards my goal I consider today to have been a successful one so far as a result of my actions. Less than an hour from my life now allowed me to reduce the amount I have to work to achieve freedom by a half-day or longer.

Today is a very good day.

If you find your inbox filled with junk mail each day, create a rule to send these emails to your junk mail folder automatically. If like me, you don’t want to risk using spam filters (since they have a habit of discarding important emails as well), you can create the rules manually with your email software. This will not only eliminate the temptation to spend money but will free up the time that you normally spend deleting them.

And if something breaks around your home that you believe may have a simple fix, I urge you to take a look at it before you toss it in the trash. Since it’s already broken, you don’t have to worry about making it worse if your attempt is unsuccessful. In many cases a thorough cleaning may solve the issue, saving you a fortune over time.

How have you minimized your time and expense lately? And do you have any suggestions about what I should tackle next? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

On another note, I have made it a personal goal to restore this website to a regular posting schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I am not quite sure how I will find the time to write three quality posts a week along with my studies but I am in hopes that by applying minimalism to my daily life that I will liberate more than enough time to accomplish my goal. Please bear with me as I strive to achieve this, and feel free to offer suggestions.

Also, if you found this post helpful I would be immensely grateful if you would take a moment to share it with a friend. I refuse to add to the advertising that the world is inundated with on a daily basis so the only way that people discover me is when they learn about me from a friend. I hope that you will spread the word that I help others simplify their lives so that they can better focus on their personal goals.

Thank you.

Can A Person Leave Minimalism Behind?

Not too long ago in the grand scheme of things I decided to leave the minimalist lifestyle behind. I felt that it was fine for someone who traveled a lot (or perhaps didn’t have a family) but that it no longer suited my needs.

Here lately though I’ve found myself looking around my home and wondering how in the world I managed to acquire so much stuff. While the majority of it is stuff I can use, it is far too much to use up in a reasonable amount of time.

For instance, thanks to the generosity of family and friends I have acquired a wardrobe that rivals the size of my original wardrobe when I started traveling down the minimalist path. Now that I’ve acquired a small washer I have no need for so many clothes.

My library has blossomed in the same way. I’ve collected books that I doubt I’ll ever read again but I’ve yet to let them go so I have to shift and dust them occasionally.

Throughout my home I can see little things that have started to collect in my life. There is nothing wrong with the individual items but as a collective they are beginning to feel a bit overwhelming in this tiny house.

So what does a former minimalist do when she realizes that she’s went a bit too far in the opposite direction?

This woman admits her mistake and begins to correct it.

Tonight I tossed several items that would be useless to others around me. The satisfaction I felt was immense. While I have no desire to toss perfectly useful items (or items I know I will use up in time), the act of eliminating a few of the useless ones was liberating.

Heading in the opposite direction has shown me that I was on the right path when I became a minimalist over a decade ago. While I’m not sure if I ever want to be as extreme as I was in the past, I’ve realized that life was simpler when I owned less.

I want to regain that simplicity as I narrow my focus to my immediate path.

I intend to contemplate this subject when I go to bed tonight. I want to think well on my next step before I move forward.

Before I leave I would like to ask you a question: can a minimalist truly leave the lifestyle behind or does it continue to affect them in ways they never imagined?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Facebook Fast

As time ticked closer to the start of my first semester I began to worry: where would I get the time to attend college? I work more hours than ever at my public job; between that and my writing business (not including my regular household duties) I was already approaching my limit.

Perplexed, I revisited my old friend Minimalism in search of ideas. Minimalism is the art of eliminating the unimportant to provide space for the important. This process is different for everyone. Some may want to eliminate excess stuff from their lives to free up space and finances while others (like me) may simply need to carve some time out in their busy lives to focus on achieving a lifelong goal.

I spent the next several days simply observing my life as I asked the question How do I spend my time? As busy as I was, I knew that I didn’t spend every single moment involved in productive endeavors, so my goal was to locate the primary leak in the ship of my time and eliminate it.

The answer came fairly quickly. Each morning as I sat down with my coffee I would open Facebook to see what my friends had been up to and respond to the messages that had arrived during the night. As I moved through my day, I noticed that I spend a tremendous amount of time responding to messages from family and friends as I strove to accomplish my daily tasks before I went to my public job.

Sometimes these conversations would become so distracting that I would lose track of time and have to rush to finish my necessary tasks before racing out the door.

My evenings weren’t much different. Each night I would plop down in my computer chair to relax and unwind a bit from my shift. I would open Facebook automatically and continue the procedure.

Sometimes I would spend so much time there that I would barely be able to keep my eyes open as I completed my nightly reading ritual before going to sleep.

I asked myself: Did I receive anything beneficial from the time I spent on Facebook each day?

The answer was a resounding no. While it was nice to keep track of my friends and family, there was nothing there that was truly relevant. Whenever someone in my life did share something important, they usually contacted me directly to distribute the news.

I took a deep breath. I have friends who enjoy reaching out to me about the minutia of their day on Facebook. I enjoy hearing from them and sharing pieces of my personal day as well. Could I truly limit or eliminate my time spent on the platform in light of this knowledge?

Eventually I decided to re-phrase the question: Would anything bad happen if I eliminated Facebook from my daily habits?

The answer was no.

I reached out to my friends and explained the situation, encouraging them to use email when they needed to reach me for something important and then I summoned my resolve and eliminated Facebook from my daily routine.

The results were astounding. That very first day I actually found myself bored.

I was so startled at that boredom that I actually celebrated. I’d not experienced boredom—true boredom–since I was a child whiling away my summer months in the Mountains. The sensation was enlightening.

We tend not to realize that the simplest of actions can have immense repercussions. Turning on the television after work can result in an evening wasted. Hanging out with friends can cause one to lose track of time so that they have to rush to accomplish their tasks (if they get done at all).

And turning on Facebook to browse the Feed can result in a journey down the Rabbit Hole of Distraction that can steal a shameful amount of hours from one’s life.

My life has changed for the better since my decision to turn my back on Facebook. Now that I have stopped visiting my Feed, opting instead to check my messages once or twice a day instead of lurking in the lives of others I have more time for myself as well as my studies.

I can wake up, drink my coffee, and perform my daily tasks with time to spare each day. Depending upon when my shift starts, I am now able to grab the occasional nap before I head in so that I can arrive refreshed instead of exhausted.

In the evenings I can turn on some relaxing classical music, curl up with a book, and feel the tension draining from my body at the end of the hectic day.

I am calmer now that I have time to spare. The persistent tension between my shoulder blades is now a memory. I not only feel better physically, my mind is developing a clarity I hadn’t known was possible.

Time is Finite

Each moment we spend, for good or ill, is lost forever. Instead of spending those moments thoughtlessly, manage them as carefully as you manage your finances.

Unlike money, time is something we can never regain once it’s gone.

Think well before you waste it.

What one item in your life can you eliminate to regain your time? Please share your stories in the comments below. If you found this post helpful, share it with a friend as well.

You might change their life for the better.

A Slice of Slavery

Katie had to walk to work in the pouring rain this morning. I grieved for her as she headed into the downpour to walk the mile-long trek to her public job.

I’ll have to do the same in a couple of hours.

I could sit at this keyboard and whine that life isn’t fair; why can’t we own vehicles like the others do?

I could sit here and juggle my budget. I could pull some money out of my investment accounts, buy a car, and eliminate the discomfort.

But if I do that, I will never be free.

I will be just like my friend, who is nervously awaiting a heart cath and possible stents at the hospital this morning. Even though they are aware that she is having the procedure, her job scheduled her to work tomorrow.

She could very well have complications. She could very well die, but does her job care? No. All they care about is her next shift.

I can’t even go up to the hospital to be with her because I’m scheduled to work and I can’t afford to take off. If she’s still there at the end of my work shift I’ll walk up to take her home or keep her company, however it goes.

This is the life of a wage slave. Forced to work until we drop, then replaced like we are nothing.

They don’t even want us to realize that there is a better way. They don’t want us to know that we can learn how to play the games that they play so we don’t have to trade our lives for money. That is why they brainwash us at school to go to college, rack up a lot of debt, get a job, and buy, buy, buy.

They want to use us up and spit us out because we are nothing to them.

Guess what, World? I know that there is a better way. I know from personal experience that one can achieve financial freedom. When the kids were young I would save up my money to take summers off to be with my kids. When I learned how to write and publish books I used that to stop working at a public job so that I could savor the remaining years of my youngest daughter’s childhood. Despite my lack of formal education (or perhaps because of it) I managed to do what most consider impossible. I was a stay-at-home single mother for years.

I made a few missteps. I over-estimated just how stable my royalty income was. That is why I will be walking in the rain to work today as I stress over the fate of my friend at the hospital instead of sitting at her side.

Instead of whining about my mistake, I choose to learn from it. I learned that there is a better way. I learned that we don’t have to be a slave for the entirety of our lives.

And I am angry enough to run with that. I am angry enough to do whatever it takes to beat those bastards at their own game, to not only improve my life but to show others how to do it as well.

I know what I’ve got to work with. I’ve got this writing business. I’ve got a public job that might pay shit for wages but is stable with a few benefits. I am an expert when it comes to saving money, and I understand the basics of investing.

Somehow I will figure out how to make this work. The day will come when my daughter won’t have to walk to work in the pouring rain. The day will come when I won’t have to do the same, when I won’t have to force myself out of bed at ungodly hours to get stuff done before I head to a public job because I know I’ll be too exhausted at the end of my shift to work towards my goal. The day will come when I don’t have to decide between paying my bills and being with my friends when they need me.

We deserve to know how to escape the chains of wage slavery. I intend to learn how, and I intend to teach others how to do it.

I will be free and I will teach others how to be free if it is the last thing I do.

You have my word.

Minimalist Experimentation

Many years ago I took my readers along on my personal journey through Minimalism. I was overwhelmed at the time so once I discovered that owning less not only helped my finances but made my practical day-to-day life easier I jumped in with both feet.

I followed the advice of the experts of the day, eliminating not only the things I knew I would never use, but all of the excess I possessed of items that I knew I would eventually use as well.

That was a mistake. While it helped free up space and mental clutter initially, that move ended up costing me a small fortune and more than a bit of discomfort as I found myself running out of essentials like clothing during a time period where it was rather difficult to replace the items as they wore out.

I do not regret that mistake. I learned a valuable lesson from it; the educational value alone is worth many times what I lost by that misstep. It taught me that the theory of eliminating all of one’s excess is flawed.

Eliminating excess is a good thing. How you choose to eliminate it can cost you a small fortune and defeat the purpose of saving money.

Let’s face it: in this modern age, it is as easy to overspend on items that we use on a regular basis as it is to overspend on impulse items that we really don’t need.

If we are surrounded by spendthrift friends, it is easy to over-acquire even if we don’t spend a single dollar.

I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past few years. Not only have I accumulated a large amount of paper, pencils, pens, office supplies, books, and food, family and friends have gifted me with a significant amount of clothes, shoes, and other items.

These are items that I know I will use in time. I’m not too picky about the clothes I wear, the shoes I don, or the office supplies I’ve collected. That said, I live in a very small home. If I do not step carefully I will become overwhelmed with stuff.

I have no desire to become a hoarder yet I’ve no desire to cut back to minimalist extremes any longer. I want to maintain balance with my possessions.

It is wasteful in the extreme to discard items that you will use simply because you have a large supply. Throwing those items in the trash or donating them to an already overwhelmed secondhand store is not the solution. Many donated items still end up in the trash and it costs money to replace those items when you use up what little you keep.

It’s not what you spend or earn; it’s what you keep and use that matters.

Annienygma

Wealthy people do not buy unless they use up or wear out what they already own. Wealthy people don’t discard things if they know they will use them.

I learned that lesson during the days when I repaired the computers that were owned by my wealthy clients. Their possessions were old but kept organized and in good repair. Some of them shared stories with me of how they’d salvaged items from the trash that had been discarded by others, delighted to share their secret with a fellow cheapskate. They could not understand why people would discard perfectly functional items, only to replace them a few days or weeks later.

My goal is to become wealthy.

Instead of simply discarding my excess I am going to get creative. As I sort through my possessions this round I will eliminate anything that I know I won’t use. The rest will be stored away and used up as needed.

I’m not sure how successful I will be. Can I resist the urge to acquire more books until I read what I already have? Can I bring myself to pass on the books that I’ve read but don’t expect to read again? Can I resist the urge to collect more office supplies, clothing, or even food?

I don’t know. All I do know is that every penny I can avoid spending at this point can be invested towards regaining my freedom. I want my freedom back, so I am going to try.

I will keep you updated on my progress on this experiment.

Minimalism, Cash Flow, and Turnover

One of the ways that businesses maximize their funds is by utilizing turnover to increase their cash flow.

Instead of purchasing a year’s supply of whatsits in order to make their widgets, they instead purchase just enough to get by for a certain time period like a week or a month.

The store I work at uses this principle. They receive two shipments a week so the general manager strives to order just enough stock to make it to the next shipment. This allows them to maximize their profit by turning over their stock on a regular basis.

It’s not a perfect science. Unexpected bad weather causes runs on such things like bread and milk but overall, in the time I’ve worked there it is quite effective.

Restaurants and other businesses do the same thing. I’ve worked many a time where we had to stretch our supplies through the evening because our truck wasn’t due until morning.

I’ve been thinking about that lately. I’ve always been a “more is better” person. I feel safer when I have stockpiles on hand. I spent so many years in economic uncertainty during my marriage that I tend to stock up instinctively. I did that not too long ago with groceries and I’ve got a stockpile of paper, clothing, and other items that demonstrates that I returned to those old habits several years ago.

That said, I’m beginning to wonder if some facets of minimalism might make economic sense. I can order supplies online on an as-needed basis. I can pick up groceries during my shifts at work. I’ve got an emergency fund established and my income is fairly stable these days. Do I really need to stock up as much now as I have in the past?

In some cases, stocking up makes financial sense. Purchasing melamine sponges (magic erasers) in bulk saved me a small fortune. But in many cases, it might not be as wise.

What if, instead of buying certain items in bulk, I instead purchased them only as needed? I could use the money saved to make more money that way. If the cost difference between buying as needed and buying in bulk is negligible, I may come out ahead in the long run.

I would definitely free up some space in this tiny house if I applied that principle.

I have decided to experiment as a result. I have placed a moratorium on certain supplies I have in bulk like paper, pencils, pens, clothing, and food. I no longer need a large wardrobe since I can now wash clothing on a daily basis and the other items can be quickly attained either online or locally when I need them.

If this girl can conquer her fear of lack, she may be able to not only free up some space around her home but to increase the amount of money she has available for investment each month.

With that thought in mind, instead of purchasing a three-month supply of flea treatment for my pets the way I normally do, I opted instead to purchase just a one-month supply for my dogs. The lone cat we have (Loki died a while back) has enough to last him for a while.

Let’s see what happens, shall we?

Desire and Frustration

I underestimated just how heavily it was raining as I left work yesterday afternoon. By the time I realized that I should open my umbrella it was far too late. I was soaked to the bone.

“I have got to increase my income,” I muttered as I sloshed my way home. If I acquired a full-time job making just $10 an hour, I would basically double my current income. I could afford the extra maintenance and insurance expense of a vehicle.

Unfortunately, I would have to work the same shift with someone I completely trusted to actually show up every day in order to earn the money to afford a vehicle, or sacrifice a lot of time walking to and from one of the local factories with my current transportation situation.

Basically, I’m caught in a Catch-22. I need to earn more money in order to afford a vehicle, but I need a vehicle in order to work a job that would provide that money.

That f*cking sucks.

So what can I do now, with what I currently have, in order to meet both short and long term goals?

I gave that a lot of thought last night.

I am already making progress. I’ve got an optometrist appointment scheduled for later this month. That is the first step in re-acquiring my driver’s license. Once I purchase a new pair of eyeglasses I will feel safe about applying for a driving permit. Once I attain that permit, I’ll have to wait around six months before I can even think of taking the driver’s test.

I am in the process of building my credit. To make myself feel better about my progress, I sent the credit card company $20 to pay off my current balance with money to spare. I’m doing everything I can do in that area, so after I made the payment I moved on to the other areas of my life.

Each day I restore at least one of my older posts to this website. Each day I work a tiny little bit on a new book that is in the works. It is still in the initial stages, but that book may provide a little bit more money to invest in the future.

Each night I read before I go to bed. I’ve got plans to attend the latest library book sale on my next day off in hopes of acquiring more books to further my education, so I’m doing everything I can do in that area of my life.

I am keeping up with reading the SEC filings on the companies I’ve invested in and plan to invest in at some point in the future. I pitch in a bit more money each month towards my investments. Other than pinching my pennies even further, I’m doing all I can do at the moment.

Since I’ve managed to reduce my smoking expense from 7-8 packs a week down to 3-4 packs a week, I’ve even managed to increase the amount I have free to invest. That means I’m making more progress in both areas of my life right there.

So what can I do now, on top of what I’m already doing, to meet my goals? I turned that question over a thousand times last night. I am busting my ass, burning the candle at both ends, just to do the things I’m currently doing.

Yet there are two tiny Baby Steps that I had missed.

I had yet to initiate my plan to stash half of my raise into my emergency fund. While I had established the savings account and transferred my emergency fund over in order to start receiving interest on the money, I had yet to sit down on payday, calculate half of my tiny raise, and transfer it over.

I pulled out the pay stub I’d received earlier in the day, calculated half of my raise, and transferred the money over. It wasn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.

Then, in order to signal to myself that I was serious about eventually acquiring a vehicle, I created yet another sub-account. I added $10 to that one.

It’s a measly amount, but at least it’s something. At least I am actively saving up, not only to purchase a vehicle, but to cover the cost of insurance, repairs, and maintenance when the time comes when I feel comfortable to buy. I’m not sure how much I’ll add to that fund each month, but as long as I do something, it will be better than nothing. It will be a lot better than bitching and complaining whenever I grow frustrated.

I will have something to show myself that I am taking steps to reach my goal.

But last night it just didn’t seem like I was doing enough. Ten dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money I would require to feel safe to even consider purchasing a vehicle.

Depressed by that thought, I sat down and cried.

I gave myself a few minutes to feel sorry for myself, then I washed my face and got back to work. I am making progress, even though it doesn’t feel like it. All I have to do is keep working. The rest will come in time.

I pulled out my Success notebook, the book where I write down motivational passages and encouragement. I read every page. Motivated by that, I read one more chapter in my current business book and went to bed.

I can do this. I don’t know how I’ll manage things yet, but at least I’m making progress. I will channel my frustration into white-hot rage, converting it to the fuel I need to keep moving forward.

This is about more than me. I want to prove to the whole damn world that just because you’re poor it doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. I will learn how to run with the big dogs, and I will teach others how to do the same.

I’m gonna do that if it’s the last thing I do.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.