Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for myyogaonline.com at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Money

October 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

While I would never promote myself as a financial wizard, I do have a set of beliefs around money that have served me very well over the years. By adhering to these beliefs I have managed to avoid many of the financial pitfalls that are considered by many to be “the way we live now.” For example, I only had credit card debt for a very short time in my twenties and I eliminated it as quickly as I could – and I never did that again.

Far from restricting me from having a prosperous and abundant life, my rules have given me freedom from a lot of stress around money (I still stress about money, but not as much as I would if I had loads of debt, I think). I’m sharing them with you here in the hopes that they are useful to you in your own money management, but also that you share with me the things that work for you that I may never have thought of.

Rule #1. The minute you go into debt you give someone else power over you. This is the heart and soul of all of my money beliefs. By assuming any sort of debt, be it credit card, mortgage, student loan, car loan or a loan from a family member, you give an entity power over how you move through the world, where you work, and what you can use your money for during the entirety of your indebted life. Debt gives others the power to harass you, charge you extra fees for late payments (or even early payments!). Debt dictates during what time of the month you have to have money available and it requires you to continue working in order to pay it off. Non-payment of debt gives others the power to garnish your wages, take your things or put you in jail in some cases. Then there’s the emotional toll of debt, which is too numerous and varied to even comprehend. Anxiety, fear, anger – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I see this now with my mortgage debt. It’s driving me crazy, and I am almost obsessively working to pay it off in the next 18 months (and believe me, my lender is not making this easy. They have the power, after all.) Do everything in your power to get out and stay out of debt.

Rule #2. The way you treat your money is how it will treat you back. A long time ago I read a magazine article about Will Smith and for some reason his financial management came up. Will Smith – who is a very wealthy guy, I think we can all agree – takes great pains to keep his money organized in his wallet by dollar amount. At first I thought this was just very fastidious. But when I started doing it myself, I realized I had inadvertently given myself more control of the money in my wallet. I knew how much I had, where it was and what I was spending it on. It was magic, sort of. If you spend the time to organize your money, look at your money and study your money, you’re more likely to know where your money is going – and decide if you want it to keep going there. I have extended this philosophy to the loose change I find around the house. I immediately pick it up and put it in a special jar. I look at my credit card statements and bank accounts every single day. When bills come in, I pay them instantly rather than letting them stack up.

If I encounter someone who has coins in the cushions and wadded up dollar bills on the counter I know that this is someone who’s money is spending them rather than the other way around. Don’t avoid your bank and credit card statements because you’re afraid to face what’s really going on. Don’t hide bills and pay them late (adding late fees to your monthly outflow). Treat your money like a good friend and partner — care for it, look after it, don’t take it for granted. By managing your money carefully and thoughtful you’ll show respect for your money and in return it will show respect for you.

Rule #3. Think in terms of the total yearly cost and you’ll save money. So often we get a new cell phone plan because it’s “just” an extra $10 per month. Or we pay our auto insurance monthly because it’s “just” an extra $3 processing fee to pay it that way rather than all in one lump, yearly sum. I took a hard look at all the monthly fees I was paying for services, added them up to see what the yearly cost was, and realized that I could cut a eliminate some of these things for a massive overall savings.

For example:

Cell Phone: $480 per year

Insurance Monthly “Convenience” Payment fees (for 4 separate policies): $144 per year

Professional Salon Hair Color: $1800 per year

Pet Insurance: $240 per year

Power Bill at $150 per month: $1800 per year*

I was spending $4464 per year on things I really didn’t need. I eliminated all of those things and *decreased my power bill to around $1000 per year by turning off lights. I also pay all of my insurance in one lump sum in January so that I don’t have those extra “convenience” charges. I stopped coloring my hair because that’s just something I no longer need to do. So basically I’m pocketing an additional $3400 a year by cutting out extraneous spending. And this is all before we calculate the savings from only having one car. That’s where we really see the savings!

Look at how much you’re spending on gas per year to see how much you can eliminate by taking public transportation or ride sharing to work. Find out what your yearly laundry detergent bill is and make your own. I did, and it’s actually fun. Calculate what you spend on beauty products, dinners out, bottles of wine. When you see the yearly totals I guarantee it will be eye opening. And when you cut out the spending that no longer serves you it’s like giving yourself a raise.

Rule #4. Establish the 30-Day Rule. I use the 30-Day Rule for purchases both large and small. I I think I want something I will wait for 30 days or more to see if I still want it. Usually I don’t. But if I do, sometimes I’ll make myself wait even longer by trying to find less expensive alternatives, better-made alternatives and better pricing. Sometimes during this research I learn something I don’t like about the product and I find a better replacement or decide not to get it at all. This practices has completely eliminated my impulse buys and also saved me money on items that I want, I love and that I know will last forever.

And the most important of all…

Rule #5. Spend less than you earn. In American consumer culture, this is practically sacrilege. As soon as we make more money, we must buy a better car, bigger house, fancier smell-pretty stuff… But where is it written that if we make $40,000 we should spend every penny? Why not make $40,000 (after taxes) and live on $20,000 of it? By thinking this way you’ll discover whole new realms of creativity for managing your money, managing your time and finding more fulfilling ways of spending your day. I mean, if you’re putting $20,000 in savings every year, you’re probably not dropping $300 every weekend at the mall. You’re walking, playing games, reading… You’re probably also teaching yourself to cook, decorating your house with DIY projects… The fact is that when we just throw money at every problem, we rob ourselves of the chance to grow creatively. Spend less than you earn to discover what you’re really made of! Plus, you’ll get the benefit of always being free from debt.

What are your money rules?

 

 

Confessions of a Type A Minimalist

October 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

My little family has done a spectacular job of joining me on this quest toward minimalism.  We’ve all gotten more organized, more streamlined and more frugal. We’ve set our sights on paying off our last remaining debt – the mortgage – and are marching toward that end with crazy resolve.
 
In fact, things are going so well that when our oldest has to linger a little longer at school because our one car is off running errands, he doesn’t complain. When George tackled his closet clutter he reduced his wardrobe to something like 20 items, and the kids have so few clothes they’re down to one load of laundry per week. Having one cell phone for both adults has turned out to be a problem exactly zero times. And everyone is enjoying our nightly mealtime adventure — so much so that many of the new vegan items I’ve introduced are now on heavy rotation.
 
But I have a few confessions to make about my own lapses. Although I present myself as a beacon of simple living, I actually have some clutter in my own figurative closet. Brace yourself for my confessions…

In the last six months I have lost TWO different credit cards. What makes it worse is that I still haven’t found them. I have no idea where they might be. I’ve stopped looking.

I do not have a reasonable way of organizing the addresses and phone numbers of friends or family. The last time I purchased an address book was about 15 years ago and all of that contact info is out of date. If I do have your physical address it’s because you sent me a letter with your return address on it and I stuffed it in a drawer. But I probably won’t be able to find it when I need it. If you’re not on Facebook, I might as well not even know you.

Speaking of Facebook, we should discuss my raging internet addiction. It feels like most of the free time I’ve gained by simplifying is spent on stumbleupon, lifehacker, treehugger and earlyretirementextreme. I should stop, but I don’t know how!

I also still can’t stop myself from buying SOMETHING every single time I’m in the bookstore. And I can’t stop myself from going in the bookstore either

On my quest for a more deliberate life, I should be partaking in activities that elevate my spirit and enrich my mind. I will start doing that right after this episode of Teen Mom. Oh yeah, you read that right. I watch Teen Mom. And Intervention. And Jersey Shore, bitches. I don’t watch any Real Housewives, but I would if I knew what time they were on. My reality show freak flag flies high.

I just took another freelance gig that will probably have me doing double time for the next year. It’s a sickness. People dangle work in front of me and I can’t find a good reason to say no, even if I know that it will impact all of the free and unfettered time I’ve worked so hard to create.

So if you’re like me and trying to simplify, de-clutter and live more frugally, but you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. It’s progress — not perfection — we’re after. So just sit back and relax. Look for your lost credit card later. Send that thank you note another time. I hear this episode of Teen Mom is a doozy.

Consider the Wage Slave

September 1, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am completely dependent on my job. I have no significant outside source of income, and I have a mortgage debt that, if my bank would have it their way, won’t get paid off for 27 more years.

I am fortunate that I don’t have the consumer and student debt that a few of my peers do, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are all basically in the same debt-filled boat. I have a mortgage debt that I am required to pay every single month. I signed up for it. And if it takes me the full 30 years to pay it off, I will have paid twice what my house was worth when I “bought” it three years ago.

Unless I make some significant changes I will be working full time for the rest of my life.

I am a wage slave.

This was not what I envisioned for my life.

So here’s my plan.

First, through conscious minimizing I have significantly reduced the amount of money that leaves my hands every month. This process includes:

  • insourcing as much home care as possible, including making my own cleaning supplies and de-cluttering to the point that my home is easy to clean
  • managing our energy and water use meticulously
  • growing some of our food in a community garden
  • creating plant-based meal plans that use every aspect of the items I purchase, and only purchasing exactly what we need
  • stopping recreational shopping
  • seeking out free or very inexpensive sources of entertainment
  • owning one car (for a family of four) and driving only when necessary
  • ridding myself of extraneous expenses like a cell phone
  • generally saying “no” to lots of activities and other things (but saying “yes” to long walks, birding hikes, bike rides and lounging around reading)

George calls this “lock down.”

What the last 12 months of lock down has allowed us to do is live off of George’s salary and put all of mine into savings, along with all of the extra income I’ve made freelancing this year. The goal is to get enough into savings to pay our mortgage off entirely within five years.

Why not send extra payments each month and start paying that bad boy off now?

Here’s why: Both George and I work in specialized jobs that would be incredibly difficult to replace if we were to lose them. While we don’t think that a layoff is imminent, we realized that if we don’t have a significant emergency fund, as wage slaves, we would be totally screwed if we were let go.

The point is that we can send the extra money each month, but if one of us loses our job our mortgage payment is exactly the same. So what if we’ve bought down $50k of the principle? If we can’t make our monthly payment we could still get foreclosed. (And you don’t even want to know what a Type A homelessness nightmare looks like…)

So what we’re doing is stockpiling cash to pay off the mortgage in a couple of lump sums while keeping a healthy emergency fund in case something goes wrong or that thing called “life” happens while we’re making other plans.

Phase two of this plan is to generate more outside income. I am going to actively work to find more freelance work, and so is George. He is also really beginning to hustle to sell his artwork and independent animated films. All of that money will go into the emergency fund since our spending is pretty well fixed at this point.

Ultimately, after five or so years, we’ll have saved enough, thwarted any unexpected financial disasters along the way, and paid off our mortgage. At that point if our jobs are still going strong then our salaries will pour into savings and investments (and long term care insurance). But I’ll no longer be a wage slave; my wages will work for me. (And maybe then I can relax a bit…?)

What are your tips and tricks for financial freedom?

 

A Few Simple Pleasures

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Americans are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to break our addiction to consumerism. Our belief that our usefulness to society extends only as far as our ability to purchase things is so deeply held that our own government refers to us as “consumers” not “citizens.” (Or worse, “employees.” But without being an employee, you’ll never be an acceptable consumer, so basically those are two connected thoughts.)

I’ve made a conscious effort to re-program my belief that owning certain things will make me happy. Even so, I still get a bit giddy when I think about getting those new barstools I’ve been ogling for over a year now. But I have made serious strides over the past few years to learn about the simple things in life that make me happy without spending money on stuff.

Here’s just a brief sampling of some of the things I’ve discovered:

  • The public library is the greatest place on the planet
  • Picnics at my local botanical garden, Quarryhill
  • Hiking the trails at our local state and regional parks
  • Birding
  • Yoga DVDs
  • Kettlebell workouts
  • Riding my bike with no particular destination
  • Walking anywhere
  • Cooking meals from scratch
  • Meal planning to ensure that none of the ingredients I buy are wasted
  • Re-reading my favorite books
  • De-cluttering my closets
  • Growing my own vegetables in our local community garden (my Anaheim Chiles are amazing!)
  • Free concerts on the town green
By focusing my attention on simpler things, I’ve found ways to fill my soul without emptying my wallet.  (I’ve watched my savings grow as well!) I’m happier, healthier and I don’t have closets full of junk I’ll never use or wear. I’ve become so much more than just a consumer, and my world has become a much happier place.
What simple things do you enjoy?

Some Updates. Plus, Clutter Corner!

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Going to do a little blog housekeeping today, and update you on some of the insourcing and other projects that have been part of my Type A minimalist takeover.
 
I recently blogged about some projects that fall under the banner of “insourcing.” The upshot is that there are probably several things we each pay someone else to do, make or provide that are well within our capabilities to provide for ourselves. To prove a point (and save a little money) I recently made my own laundry detergent and toothpaste.
 
The laundry detergent project is working out incredibly well. Our clothes are clean and fresh, they smell great, my HE washer seems to do fine with it, and I have enough from my first batch to probably get me through the next six months. Highly Recommended.
 
My toothpaste was made out of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and a hearty dose of stevia (recipe below). It was very easy to make, and the ingredients cost about $15 total. I made about a cup of it at first, and my guess is I have enough ingredients to make toothpaste for the next several decades.
 
In the plus column, my teeth have never been whiter. Seriously. Ditch those Crest Whitestrips and do this for a week – but stay away from blacklights. I’m not kidding when I say my teeth are WHITE. In the minus column, the taste is just ok. Not awful. Not great. I do find that I don’t look forward to brushing my teeth as much, and using the concoction is a little drippy and messy. But overall it’s been good, and my mouth feels squeaky clean. Recommended.
 
I’ve been insourcing my own dog treats for a while now, too. Here’s the batch I cooked up yesterdy for my dog Dobby. He’s crazy about these homemade treats.
 

Dog treats made with leftover oatmeal, wheat flour and peanut butter.

 
I also have talked about my love of solid shampoos and the search for a solid conditioner.
 
I found a product made by Lush Cosmetics called Jungle. I love the way it smells, but as my hair gets longer, the solid conditioner just isn’t really working for me. I think if I had a short haircut it would be fine (would  I need conditioner at all, though, if it was really short?).  So I’m giving up on that for now, and instead opting for refilling my conditioner bottle with liquid conditioner in the bulk section at Whole Foods. Solid shampoo: Highly recommended. Solid conditioner: Not Recommended. Whole Foods bulk personal care products: Highly recommended.
 
In addition to my hair care project, I am still growing out my hair to its natural color. It feels a little drab, to be perfectly honest, but I’m ok with it. The ends are still a little blond, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s all just the real me.
 
And lastly, I mentioned a book I’m reading that I couldn’t wait to blog about. And then I didn’t blog about it. It’s called Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker. I will get to this, but I’m still a little blown away by it, and trying to piece together the best parts to share. One of the reasons I started on this minimalist path was because I wanted to create more free space in my life by working less and needing less. This book has everything (including equations and charts!) the minimalist needs to find a way to quit working so much. So in the meantime, please check it out.
 
And for the grand finale… Here’s a shot of my latest Goodwill batch. I had way too many socks…
 
 

Isn't it funny how you don't realize just how ugly all your crap is until it's in a pile headead to Goodwill?

 
And now here’s this:
 
Toothpaste recipe:
½ c baking soda
¼ c 3% hydrogen peroxide
Peppermint oil to taste
Stevia extract to taste
 
Mix it all together and store it in a jar. Give it a good shake before using.
 
What have you been up to lately?
 
 

Insourcing

July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments

We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.

What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater…  Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.

A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.

I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.

Things I currently insource:

Food:

I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.

Household:

I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)

Entertainment:

I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.

Exercise:

I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!

Travel:

I reject the notion that I NEED a car.  Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.

Other:

I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)

Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:

Pedicures:

I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.

Haircuts:

Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).

Auto repairs:

I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.

Bike Repairs:

Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.

Clothing:

I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.

Products we use:

I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?

By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.

One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?

What products/services could you insource?

As Soon As…

June 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment

 
I’ve been lax in blogging this week because I am OBSESSED with a new book that makes me even more excited about embracing minimalism. I can’t wait to write about it here, so I’m burning through the pages in the hopes that I will be able to post my riveting review before I leave for vacation on Saturday.
 
In the meantime, however, I’ve been thinking about that little phrase that often keeps us from making positive changes in our lives. You’ve heard it. You’ve said it. You’ve believed it. But I am telling you today that it’s time to eliminate the phrase:
 
“As soon as…”
 
“As soon as” is a tricky devil. It tells the world that we have every intention of accomplishing something interesting (thereby making us SEEM interesting), but it immediately justifies why we’re not doing it right now. It’s the ultimate get out of jail free card for the clever procrastinator.
 
Here is a brief sampling my own “as soon as” phrases:
 
“As soon as I pay off my mortgage I will relax.”  I am generally wound tight as a top. I put too much pressure on myself to find and execute extra freelance work so that I can continue to send those bulked up payments to my overlords at GMAC. As a result I am harried, hurried and hardly bearable to be around. When I realized that this “as soon as” was keeping me from having the serenity I deserve now, I took active steps to learn to calm down. Breathing. Walking. Napping. I learned that whether or not I am a frenzied mess, the work still gets done and I am lot more peaceful. I am relaxed now and no longer waiting for a day that might take years to come.
 
As soon as the weather gets crappy, the weather improves or I find a day I want to stay home, I’ll clean out my garage.”  There is no end to the excuses I will give myself to avoid de-cluttering this last bastion of misfit items. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too rainy, it’s too beautiful, it’s too…meh. I fear this “as soon as” will keep snowballing until I’m hopelessly discouraged. That is why I say — without a hint of irony — that as soon as I get back from vacation I’m attacking this problem with gusto, no matter what the weather’s doing. I refuse to let my garage keep owning me. And maybe I’ll do some fun before and after photos…
 
“As soon as I have loads of free time, I’ll pursue my dream of learning to skate.” This is one I actually tackled! Almost three years ago when I was literally up to my eyeballs in clutter, work and stress, I decided that I was going to just ignore all that and learn to figure skate anyway. I didn’t have the time, the money or the energy, but I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger and I just had to suck it up and head to the rink. The amazing thing is that as soon as I made the decision to do it, my week started opening up in ways that made it possible to practice frequently. I learned to manage my time better to make room for my lessons in my oh-so-busy schedule. I looked at my finances more closely to ensure that my lessons didn’t impact our ability to eat (important!).
 
Despite all of my alarm bells, I did it anyway, and the universe helped me find ways to make it possible. Some philosophers call this “the golden thread.” It’s the idea that once you set out on a path that’s authentic for you, opportunities arise to help you on your way. I’ve been skating once or twice a week now. I have a coach. I’ve made some friends. And if I’d waited for that free time to magically appear, I never would have learned to do something I love.
 
There are certainly a few “as soon as” phrases that make perfect sense, such as “As soon as my bones knit I’ll go on that hike,” or “As soon as the paint dries you can touch the wall,” but let’s be reasonable. Identify those big “as soon as” phrases in your life to see what your heart really wants to do. And then just do it.
 
What are you waiting for?
 

Ten Ways to Save Money Right Now

June 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

I work hard for my money. Don’t we all? I like to make sure that I’m spending my ducats as wisely as possible, which is why I’m fiercely committed to eliminating all unnecessary spending.
 
My family has made some big decisions, like only owning one car and shutting off my cell phone. But we’ve also done a variety of smaller things that have helped us eliminate some wasteful spending, and gotten us even closer to our goal of paying off our mortgage.
 
Since we all work so hard, here are just a few money saving ideas that I can recommend to you that are easy as pie.
 
1. Put a plastic bottle filled with water and gravel in your toilet tank. Save gallons of water and buckets of dollars with each flush simply by displacing some of the water in your tank. In the past, people have used bricks for this same purpose, but over time the bricks can disintegrate and cause damage to your plumbing. This is by far one of the easiest money-saving tricks on my list. You’ll see the benefit on your water bill instantly.
 
2. Stop drinking soda. I’ll save my rant about corn syrup-laden sodas for another post. But I will say this: Not only will cutting soda out of your life save you money, but you’ll be healthier, you’ll feel better and the disposable containers used to convey these sugary poisons will stay out of the landfills.  The average American spends more than $300 on soda each year – what better use could you find for that money? Your teeth, your waistline, your wallet and your planet will thank you for making this small change.
 
3. Turn off your cable or satellite service. I haven’t had these services in so long that I don’t even know what they cost anymore, but it seems to me that spending any amount of money per month to watch TV is a rip-off. This is not to say that I don’t watch TV. In fact, I have the worst taste in television imaginable (it’s too embarrassing to even talk about…). But I watch everything online at hulu.com or on the network websites. I have never once missed having cable or satellite (I have also never once missed an episode of Jersey Shore – I told you it was bad) but I do love that I have one less monthly bill to pay.
 
4. Walk. Where I live, gas is topping $4.25 a gallon. This is incentive enough for me to hoof it to the store or the post office! With the weather heating up, this requires a little planning (i.e. gotta go in the morning), but that’s not a huge deal. If you live in the burbs where walking is just not an option, try combining trips or ridesharing with a neighbor. Or, if you can, take the bus. The bus takes a little longer so take a book along and make an afternoon of it.
 
5.  Shop the bulk aisle at the grocery store. You won’t believe what’s waiting for you in bulk! Cereals, oatmeal, cookies, candy, dried fruits, honey, maple syrup and spices – all at ridiculously low prices! Here’s an example: I was recently making a recipe that required a specific spice, but I only needed a tablespoon. The full-sized jar of this spice cost over $10. In the bulk section, I bought my one tablespoon for 45 cents. And now I don’t have a full jar in my pantry that I have to use up before it loses its verve. Your local store may also – like mine – offer shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and other cosmetic needs in bulk as well. Just bring your own containers and save big!
 
6. Cancel credit cards that have yearly fees. I look at my credit card statements and bank statements online almost every day. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my current credit card slipped in a $60 annual fee! I canceled it and am now only using one that doesn’t have any fees attached to it. Check your statements regularly to make sure there aren’t any hidden surprises.
 
7. Get more sleep. What does sleep have to do with saving money? More than you think. If you’re getting enough rest, you won’t need to rely on costly energy boosters (afternoon Starbucks run, anyone?), you’ll have more energy to devote to exercising which will keep you healthier in the long run and you’ll be less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety – which can lead to irrational spending.  A recent study released by the University of British Columbia points to lack of sleep as a main indicator in our obesity epidemic, increased risk for a host of scary cancers, and the unregulated release of stress hormones. Tuck yourself in for at least nine hours a night – you’ll feel better. Plus, you can’t shop while you’re unconscious.
 
8.  Get a library card. There are books you can read at the library! For free! And movies! And CDs! And magazines! And audiobooks! You can request things and they’ll get it for you! FREE! For years I just ordered whatever I wanted from Amazon, and then I discovered this amazing resource (I felt like a dummy for not discovering the library sooner… duh.) But now I’m an absolute convert. Your taxes pay for this amazing service, so I highly recommend that you find your local library and spend some serious time there. If you’ve shut off your cable, you’re going to probably want to get some reading material or some DVDs…
 
9. Identify a few household things you can live without. I learned about six years ago that I don’t need paper towels. I learned about six months ago that I don’t need Ziploc bags. I’ve also managed to eliminate toxic household cleaners and replaced them with good old baking soda and vinegar. Cheap! By just cutting out one thing that you think you can live without, you’re already saving money.
 
10. Develop the 30-Day Rule. You’ve probably heard this one before, but let me tell you,  it works! Basically if I am jonesing for something other than an absolute necessity, I make myself wait for 30 days to purchase it. If I’m still thinking about the item in 30 days then I may give myself the go-ahead to buy – but not always. If the item is expensive, I’ll make myself wait another 30 or longer. (There’s one particular item I’ve wanted for over two years, but I’m still waiting because it just seems so impractical). More often than not I forget about the item completely. What I have realized through this little exercise is that sometimes just imagining I have something is enough to make me feel that little retail therapy boost. Crazy, but true. And I’ve pretty much trained myself out of impulse shopping.
 
There are probably more things I could throw on this list like meal planning, eating everything in your pantry, high-interest savings accounts or stopping the catalog deliveries to your house. But those things are a bit more complicated and probably require a longer post. For now, I’d like to hear from you.
 
What easy things do you do to save money? 

What Do You Mean by “Minimalism”?

June 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

I was recently asked this question, and I found myself stumped for an answer.
 
I started blathering on about stuff owning me, and recycling, and then I offered my opinion about extraneous packaging, the excruciating spiritual effects of credit card debt and a few things about eating less meat and taking more hikes. I might have tossed in a non sequitur about birdwatching at one point. It was a disaster, and I think the person who asked now thinks I’m a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
 
So I decided I needed a definition to offer when someone asks me what all of this means. A “minimalist manifesto,” if you will, so I don’t leave my questioner more confused than ever.
 
With that in mind I offer you…
 
The Type A Minimalist Manifesto
 
1.     I reject the idea that striving to own more stuff, racking up debt to own more stuff and spending all my free time acquiring stuff will result in greater well-being, peace and happiness.
2.     I embrace the idea that living simply, spending wisely, respecting nature, enjoying my work and cultivating good health will result in greater well-being, peace and happiness.
3.     I have a desire to create rather than consume.
4.     I have a desire to build an orderly and uncluttered life, physically, mentally and spiritually, in order to make room for pursuits that contribute to my well-being, peace and happiness, and the well-being, peace and happiness of others.
5.     I have a desire to be mindful of the origins of the products I purchase. I accept that I am responsible for what happens to my possessions when I am done with them.
6.     I am actively cultivating a spirit of gratitude for what I do have, while de-emphasizing negative feelings about what I don’t have.
 
Whether you call it voluntary simplicity, simple living, de-cluttering or just your lifestyle, minimalism in all its forms means less work, less worry, less desire, less frustration, less debt and less stuff. It also means more time, more freedom, more serenity, more acceptance, more gratitude and more peace.
 
What is your definition of minimalism?
 
 

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