How far do you want to go?

Do you often wonder what your end game is with minimalism or decluttering? How far do you want to go with it and what will it look like? And if you go to the edge, eliminate ruthlessly, will you some day add back in?

Katy of the Non-Consumer Advocate had a great post up at Get Rich Slowly: When Does Minimalism Go Too Far? Katy’s been blogging about her efforts at simpler, frugal, green and sustainable living for three years. She’s been at this a good while and she’s watched the bloom of minimalist bloggers and the wave of radical minimalists come and go. I value her point of view. She also just made a killing on eBay from a jar of marbles she bought for $3. Smart woman.

If you have time read the post and then take a look through the comments section. Good stuff there and a lot of comments that I identified with.

I think you go to far when a lifestyle choice becomes an obsession. Or you’re not enjoying the process. Sure, the initial phase of decluttering was a lot of work. And some of it was painful but not because I was sad about getting rid of things. I was mad at myself for wasting money on them. That hurt.

Now we’re in what I consider a sweet spot. We still have stuff and a lot of it is nonessential. Because when you get down to it what’s really essential? A spot to sleep, a pot to cook in and clothing on your back. You could even get by without a plate. Just use your Spork to eat right out of the pot. Instead we have a home with things that we use regularly and I know exactly what’s hiding in our little storage cubby (seasonal clothing, Christmas tree, fan, little step stool, two camping chairs, luggage).

Our move overseas will probably take us to the edge of not being comfortable. Even with shipping 3-4 boxes and taking 3 suitcases on the flight, we will arrive with a lot less than we currently have. No furniture. Just a few toys for Henry. No dishes or cutlery. Even if we rent a furnished flat we will be buying some new, or new to us, housewares.

I’m excited about going to the edge and coming back. I’m excited to have some patience and stick to a list and not drop hundreds of dollars at the UK equivalent to Target on random household items. I want a trip to IKEA to be a last resort. I’m not going to force my family to sit on the floor for dinner… for too long anyways.

The thing I’m focused on most is the process and not the result. I’ve spent a lot of my life living in some day instead of today. Moving overseas will be challenging. I’m not looking forward to a toddler adjusting to a nine hour time change. But I am up for the greater challenge of continuing on with a rich life with less stuff.

Do you have a vision for what your home and life will look like at the end of the process? Are you living in the vision or living the sweat and fun of the process?

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Moving overseas: how to make friends


Many moons ago, when I was preparing to head south to university, my brother asked me how I was going to meet people and make friends. At first I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. How do you make friends?

I thought about his question for a moment and then answered.

The boathouse.

I’ll make friends at the boathouse from the dozens of other rowers I will train with on an almost daily basis.

I crossed my fingers and hoped this was true. There was no way I could handle my high school social wasteland repeated for four years of university.

Today my social circle is really a bunch of small separate circles: university friends, National Team rowing friends, film school friends, odds and ends from jobs, mom friends and family. I only keep up with, and am kept up with in return, about three dozen people. This ranges from friends that I call once a week to others that I see or talk to every few months. One group of eight friends has an almost constant email thread of updates and inside jokes. We all live in different corners of the country but I feel in touch with them (even without Facebook).

I used to feel awkward about not having a huge posse of friends. Particularly when I moved back to Vancouver after retiring from sport. The circle was small and the numbers I had on speed dial were few but called often. Aren’t we supposed to have a huge network of friends in our 20’s?

Some people.

But not everyone.

I’m an introvert, an INTJ in Myers-Briggs, and I like to recharge with alone time. I’m not great at small talk in large groups. I prefer small groups and talking one on one with people.

In a previous job I was a brand ambassador. Along with some public speaking, which I found challenging but greatly rewarding when it went well, I went to corporate functions. My role was to talk to clients and employees. Quick five minute conversations so I could work the room as much as possible. But I could never stick to the five minutes. Usually it was more like 20 minutes and then I would run into the person again and we would continue the conversation. I like asking questions and listening. I don’t want to memorize the stats on a business card, shake hands, and move on. I want to know the person’s passions, where their family is from and what their most embarrassing moment is.

It’s okay that I have small pockets of friends. It’s okay that I like to spend time by myself. It’s okay that if we have a sitter I would rather do something with just my husband than a large group of people.

Of course, when I went off to university I wasn’t as self-aware as I am now. I did worry I wouldn’t make friends. I worried I would be sitting in my dorm room alone on Saturday nights. And I worried in vain.

I made friends at the boathouse.

And the dorms.

And class.

Twelve years after graduating I still keep in touch with my two best friends from those days. We’ve been friends for over 15 years and yet, I can still call them and it’s like we’re juniors again, living in a big drafty house and planning our next luau themed party.

I’m fairly confident in my friend making ability, and I know I don’t need a huge social circle, but I’m already preparing for the challenges of meeting new people. Of casting the net wide, getting my friendly small talk down, and finding some writers/runners/parents/etc to get to know and find out if we’ll fit as friends to go for a hike/coffee/start a book club together. I’ll be dating again in a platonic way.

My strategy:

Parent Groups: I’ve checked and there are parent and tot swims, library story times and playgroup meet-ups in our new home. I’ll be making the rounds the first few months to find what activities Henry and I like and meet other parents.

Running Groups: looks like an active running community on the IOM. I’d like to join a local running group for motivation and friendship.

Coffee Shops and Parks: it’s not my strong suit but I occasionally spark up conversations with people when out and about. I’ll have to bring out my inner extrovert for this one.

Online–> Real Life: I’ve met some cool people via this blog. I’d like to use online forums and blogs to find other stay at home mums, expats and such, to connect with on the Isle of Man.

Chris will have the advantage of his office to meet people. The workplace, particularly for a corporate culture dominated by expats, is a great way to create a social network in a new city. I’m not as lucky to have such easy access to new friends but I do have a strategy.

Any other ideas for me? I know a few readers have made big moves before. How did you make friends in a new city?

Photo Credit

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how do you make extra money?

Student Barista makes coffee drinks for USF Students (Hunter Patterson, Foghorn)
Love my coffee but not up for being a barista .

Growing up I earned money by babysitting and working an after-school and summer job. It was traditional work and paid by the hour. Mostly. Lady down the street paid me to babysit out of whatever was in her pocket. Sometimes that was a coupon for a McDonald’s ice cream cone and a bunch of change.

Since then, I’ve done a few less traditional things to make a dollar.

In 2006 the line-ups at the passport office were record breaking. The US was about to require Canadians have passports for entry (previously you just needed a drivers license) and a lot of people needed them that previously had not. One morning I got up at 5:30am and met up with my sister to get in line and renew my passport. I was one of the first dozen people in line and by 8:00am there were a few hundred people behind me in line. I was unemployed at the time and my sister suggested I see if I could sell my spot. A disgruntled person from the back of the line had come forward to see where the start was and I offered him my spot for $60. Easy enough, right?

For a few weeks I used my early rising skills, developed from years as a rower, for cash. Two hours standing in line brought me $50 – $70 and every time I told a friend why I had to get to bed so early they laughed.

Eventually my younger sister got in on the act and one of us would ‘save’ the spots while the other would go to the back of the line to sell them. It was stressful but exhilarating. And, while I consider myself an introvert, I got a nice kick out of the selling part.

All good things must come to an end and the passport office cottoned onto our gig. We weren’t alone in the game by that point. Our colleagues were a mix of students, street people and entrepreneurs that, like us, lined up at the crack of dawn to make a few dollars before most peoples day had even begun. The passport office started issuing numbers to people in line and there was talk of people being arrested if they were found selling the ticket. I wasn’t about to go to jail for my part-time job so I decided to retire. It was good while it lasted.

In more recent years Chris and I have done a few things to bring in extra cash. We own a part-share in season hockey tickets. We sell most of our share of tickets to a broker for a bit above cost. Chris gets to go to one or two games for free and then we make a bit of money selling play-off tickets (Go Canucks! Go!).

I’m fairly risk averse but Chris is not. Last year a friend of Chris’s wanted to start a small business but needed about $1500 start-up money. I wasn’t really game for it but Chris knew his friend and the risk involved better than I did so I trusted him. We’ve now made back our investment plus some.

If you’re in debt find extra ways to make money.

Actually, you don’t even have to be in debt to find extra ways to make money. Maybe you want to build an emergency fund or save for a vacation. Whatever the reason, finding a few ways to earn an extra few hundred dollars a month is a good skill to have.

It doesn’t have to be a traditional part-time job.

In fact, in my mind it’s preferable to work for yourself instead of committing 10-20 hours a week to a formal job. It creates flexibility in your life because I assume, like most people, you already have a fairly full schedule. Creating extra income should be something you can pick-up and let go of as your life and motivation level demands.

Most of the extra income I have earned in the last year has been from selling our things. Yes, it is a finite way to make money but we’re paying off debt and I consider debt finite too. Selling furniture, our car and getting a table at a Swap Meet have been easy and flexible ways to make money.

If you have children flexibility is key. Ideally you don’t want to pay for a sitter while you work. Find something you can work on for brief amounts of time like putting up a for sale ad while your child is napping or otherwise occupied.

It should be something you enjoy.

Don’t take up flipping antique furniture if you know nothing about it and, more importantly, don’t like it. Ideally this small part-time income is part of a hobby. Maybe you craft or knit and decide to start a small business buying supplies wholesale and selling them to friends.

Katy of The NonConsumer Advocate bought a jar of marbles at a garage sale for $3. She sorted them and listed them on eBay. Some of them will sell for up more than $10. Katy obviously likes eBay and knows a thing or two about antique marbles. Great way to make a few dollars doing something she likes.

You could babysit, house sit, sell things, make things, you name it. Think about things you like to do, are good at, and if you have a market around you to sell those goods or services. Don’t overlook your own skills. If you’ve been blogging for three years and keeping up a Twitter or Facebook account you have a skill. Think about anyone you know with a small business. Any of them not web savvy? Consider offering your services to help them start a company blog or Twitter account.

My sister was recently asked by a friend to write copy for a website. Does Katy have any formal copy writing experience? No. But she has written and edited formal business documents and has now kept a blog that she has written on 2+ times a week for six months. Her friend liked the style of her writing, needed someone quick and below cost, and Katy fit the bill.

The Flip

The most common way I see people making extra money is by flipping an item. Buy low sell high as they say. If you are into buying used goods, and know the market for them, you’ve probably seen some smokin deals on things. When I went to a Swap Meet I learned that most of the people that bought tables do so as a small business. They buy items at garage sales for pennies, clean them up, and then resell them for a profit.

The other way to flip is buying new items that are in hot demand. When Apple released the iPhone there was a huge market of iPhones being resold for above cost. Why? There were only so many units being released each day and most people had to line up overnight or early in the morning to get one. People want the latest thing but they don’t want to run all over town finding who has it in stock or line up for it. If you’re savvy on the latest gadgets this might be something to consider.

One flip I am interested in right now is gift cards. On my local Craigslist a lot of people sell gift cards at greatly reduced costs – they want the cash, not credit at Starbucks. There’s a new site called (many US equivalents if you search them out) that buys back gift cards for cash (they also sell them below cost – check it out if there is something on your 30 Day Buy list that you must have). I’m doing a bit of research at the moment and will at some point make a test run of flipping a gift card. The key is to find cards for stores that have a high rebuy value from Example: I buy a $100 department store giftcard on Craigslist for $65. will give me $90 for it. My profit would be $25.

Note: be very careful buying gift cards from people. Meet them at the retailer, ask the retailer to verify the balance and then transfer the balance onto a new card before you purchase the card from the seller.

But I thought Minimalists wanted to work less?

Yes! That’s why I’m not back at a 50-60 hour a week job. And one of the reasons I can not be at that job is because we’ve reduced our living expenses and found flexible ways to earn extra money.

What about the Internet?

If you have a fool proof way of making money online please share. The only people I know that have successfully created an online business, and passive income from that business, put a lot of work in before they made any money from it. It can be done, and if you have an idea or passion that is based around an online business I say go for it. But I caution you to beware of thin promises of easy money made online. Courtney had a great post up about creating a small business and her line here is dead on: Prepare to work more before you work less.

More on making money:

  • Jenny at ExConsumer has a thread of posts on how she generates extra cash. Jenny will be non-mortgage debt free by November of 2012 – correction: make that November of this year! – if all goes as planned. Keep an eye on her – she’s very motivated and creative. I predict earlier success on her debt pay down.
  • The Saved Quarter has a helpful list of how she saves $115/week. Her method is a combination of savings from her budget and earning extra money. She babysits, secret shops and takes surveys to name a few things. Great ideas here if you are home with kids and need things you can do without hiring a sitter.
  • Find a New Career in the Junkyard: I wouldn’t recommend getting into flipping furniture unless you have some solid skills and knowledge to start (and space!). Think you have what it takes? Check out the Modern Thrifter’s list of thrifting basics. If that list is old hat to you, you have an empty garage, a truck and know how to refinish or reupholster a piece of furniture – go for it!

Do you have any tips or ideas for making extra money? Please share – I’m interested in adding to my debt reduction/money making arsenal of ideas.

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getting over the want: part 3

This is the third and final post on getting over the want aka consumerism. To read Part 1 click here and Part 2 click here.

When was the last occasion that you lost track of time? Were you reading a book, or playing a game with your kids, or lost in a sewing project?

I’m trying to lose track of time more. As a reformed clock watcher this is a challenge. I used to work backwards from a watch for most of my day. If it takes me 20 minutes to walk to work, plus 10 if I stop at Starbucks, thirty minutes to blow dry my hair, 30 minutes for breakfast, shower with hair wash is 15 minutes, want to run 10k and that would be about an hour, 20 minutes to fully wake myself and put on my running gear…. I need to be up by 6am to get to work by 9am.

Last fall we went on a beach vacation and I left my cell phone and watch at home. It was nice. I spent a lot of time just doing and not thinking about what was coming next.

When I think about being less wanty, about being focused on the present and what is great in my life right now, I get back to being engaged. Engaged with myself and engaged with others. When I focus in on the things that bring me joy and contentment, I don’t need the distraction and false high of shopping or things.

Step One was “don’t let it in the door“.

Step Two was create barriers.

Step Three: shift your focus.

It may seem obvious, but there’s so much more to life than new clothes and bigger homes. A while back there was an inspirational list floating around called Regrets of the Dying. This is a list compiled by someone that worked with palliative care patients. Regret #2 is I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. The patients deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

When I start thinking about wanting things, about granite kitchen counter tops and vacations, I give my head a shake. I have great family, good health and all my needs are met. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Here are some ways to shift your focus and get over the want.

  • Hobbies: just because you’re cleaning out closets does not mean you have to give up your hobbies. In fact, by getting rid of the non-essentials you should have more time for the things you really love to do. Engage in that craft project, find some quiet time to work on that novel and join a running group. The high from creative pursuits and the endorphins from exercise will erase any thoughts of buying.
  • Relationships: I always lose track of time when I’m on the phone or Skype with family or friends. I look up and an hour has passed. Engage with people, not your credit card, and you’ll quickly get over the thought that a new handbag will be life changing.
  • Breathe: in stressful moments I look for diversions. Sometimes this is in the form of spending. A particularly difficult jog with a toddler in a stroller, one where I end up holding the toddler and pushing the stroller more than running, and my thoughts turn to a $12 stress relieving lunch at Whole Foods or my favorite pannini place. I’ve found that a couple of deep breaths helps me let go of my frustrations and my stress spending thoughts. If you’re frustrated and ready to do damage with your credit card take a minute for some deep breaths and calm thoughts. Nothing you buy will relieve the stress and frustration of a tough day.

I like to remind myself that the rational side of my brain knows that new things don’t change my life. I change my life.

If you struggle with the want, how do you remove yourself from it? What are your go to happy things that aren’t based in buying?

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walkability, your neighborhood and your health

Walking on Crosby

Years ago I worked with a woman that told me she loved her commute. She had a huge home in the suburbs and left very very early in the morning to come into work. To accommodate traffic she worked odd hours to most of her coworkers. She had a fairly serious chronic condition that demanded regular sleep, good nutrition and exercise to avoid flare ups. She was unable to give herself any of those things but she was able to sit in a car for up to three hours a day. Did she desperately need the money from work? Not really. She admitted as much to me.

Urban sprawl and the car commuting lifestyle add pounds. The average weight of a resident of a walkable neighborhood is seven pounds less than someone living in a sprawling neighborhood.

Car commuting takes away from community and activity. For every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute their community activities drop 10%.

What makes a neighborhood walkable? from

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

Walking places is probably the biggest reason we like living downtown. We don’t go to a lot of live music events at the big arenas a few blocks away, we aren’t terribly into the restaurant scene and I haven’t been to a bar on Granville street in a long, long time. Obviously I don’t feel a big need to be close to the mall or the shops on Robson Street. So why live downtown with all the noise and small space.

We like walking to the bank.

We like walking to the park.

We like grocery shopping on foot, our easy access to the library for books and the childrens activities they put on and being a few short blocks away from the YMCA and their ozonated pool.

The root of this enjoyment? Laziness. Especially now that we have a child. Gotta buckle him in and then out and then back in and then out again. Yep, we’d rather walk because driving seems like a lot of work.

So what are we going to do about our driving laziness on the Isle of Man? We will be getting a car. I was sad about this but it’s actually part of Chris’s remuneration package. On the bright side: we’ll get some use out of it seeing the Isle and, hopefully, other parts of the UK.

While we’ll be rejoining the ranks of car ownership, we will still be able to walk most places. I was ecstatic to check our new home’s Walk Score on

  • Walk Score for our Vancouver neighborhood: 97 (out of 100)
  • Walk Score for Douglas, Isle of Man: 93 (out of 100) *I used Douglas Promenade – the main drag for Douglas and where I am told we will look for a flat- to get a walk score.

The Isle of Man also has excellent bus service and train service which I am excited about. I’ll need to ease into right side driving.

Do you know your neighborhood’s Walk Score? Do you think it affects your health and activities? If you car commute how do you make time for activity in your day?

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