Evolution of the Household: 1950’s to today.

Source: kaleazy.com via Rachel on Pinterest


Infographic from Kaleazy.

Ever wonder why so many of us struggle with debt when our parents, or even grandparents, never had so much as a credit card? I thought this was an interesting infographic to share with you to shed some light on how family living has changed over two generations. We are now:

  • living in bigger homes with fewer people
  • saving less and spending more on non-necessities

No wonder a lot of us are stressed out with debt and clutter.

One beef with this infographic: the threading of the change, or decline, in family living with increase in women in the workforce. I’m a lefty freak with my head in the clouds because I think the Swedish model of parental leave and job flexibility could be the answer for having it all.



one size doesn’t fit all

Source: google.com via Rachel on Pinterest


I’m officially calling the last nine days “PlagueFest 2012” for our family. The previous weekend saw me bed ridden with the flu. I knew things were serious when I had no appetite and my internal organs felt bruised. Chris took care of Henry for the weekend while I sipped water and alternated between shivering and sweating.

Chris left Sunday afternoon for a week long work trip. By that point I was upright on the couch and things were improving. I was hopeful that with the worst of it over I would rally for a productive week of solo parenting.


Henry had a fever early in the week and spent 24 hours clinging to me. He seemed to rally for a day and then… stomach flu hit. I was thrown up on a few times and again, have spent most of my days holding him and doing not much of anything (except vigilantly washing my hands so that I didn’t get the stomach bug from him).

Oh, and Chris fell ill with the flu while on his trip. Not sure which one of us got the worst deal: travel when sick or almost a week as a shut-in with a sick child.

How does this tie into minimalism and simple living?

I am so thankful for lots of towels and the three sets of bedsheets in our home. Our flat is a furnished rental and it came with a well stocked linen closet. Lots of bed sheets and towels have been a good thing with a toddler with stomach flu.

I’m also thankful for multiple sets of pajamas. We have three that are the current size, two that were in the ‘box away for mythical second child’ pile because they were a touch small and one wearable but too large set that were a Christmas gift. I used all of them in a 48 hour period.

Are lots of pajamas and linens minimalist? No. But as I’ve written here before, I’m not into count it all and live with next to nothing type of minimalism. I just don’t think it’s possible for most people in the first world to get down to a backpack and one box of possessions and still enjoy their life.

However, I continue to be excited by the idea of making less stuff work for the rest of us. You can pick and choose. You can scale to your lifestyle, hobbies and home. You can empty out your garage but still keep your treasured coffee mug collection. You can donate 20% of your wardrobe and reap the benefits of less.

It’s not all or nothing. It’s not one size fits all. Sometimes that feels like a burden, there are no checklists or one right way to scale down your possessions. But it’s also what makes it possible for everyone to get the benefit of less. Even if it’s just emptying one closet in your house this year. Even if it’s not doing any de-cluttering but making a commitment to buy less stuff.

Are there any areas of your life, any collections or equipment for hobbies, that you have left as is? Our big one is electronics. We did get rid of a few things of my husband’s before we moved overseas but between us we have three iPods (one is a tiny running one), an iPad, two laptops, work laptop, work keyboard/monitor/laptop dock, external hard drive, AppleTV, two cell phones, wireless router and printer/scanner. Not minimalist in the slightest.


Paying Off Debt the Quick and Dirty Way


Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Just a 34 year old woman who is finally out of consumer debt since getting her first credit card at the age of eighteen. Always consult a financial planner or advisor before making radical financial decisions.

Being in debt sucks. It makes you feel bad so you spend more and then you feel bad about that and spend even more in a silly attempt to try and forget about the bills.

I know a lot about being in debt. It’s been a constant for most of my life. I grew up in a single parent family with five siblings and we all knew how much the mortgage payment was each month. We had our our cable television cut and our mom’s bank card and credit card was rejected many, many times at grocery stores and malls. Debt was how we survived.

When I was in university, on my full athletic scholarship, I got credit cards for the ‘extras’: nice clothes and the occasional restaurant meal. I also took on debt so that in the summers, instead of working, I moved to eastern Canada to train at the national rowing centre and race for Canada.

I brought debt into my marriage and then grew the debt as we moved into a bigger home, traveled and lived above our means.

In February of 2010, almost two years ago, my husband and I decided to do something about our debt. We tallied it up on a spreadsheet, all $82,000 CDN, and got to work. In September of 2011 we made our final payment on a line of credit and freed ourselves of consumer debt. Here’s what I learned about getting rid of debt the fast and dirty way:

Sell stuff.

Probably the easiest and quickest way to get some traction on your debt is to start selling things you don’t use. We sold everything from baby stuff, to the torch I ran with in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, to my wedding dress and, eventually, our car. Selling stuff netted us around $8,000 – almost 10% of our debt.

Stop buying things you don’t need.

We put ourselves on a shopping embargo. No non-consumable purchases without talking it out at length with each other. It worked. No more buying the daily deal on a website or Groupons we would never use. I stopped browsing in stores and turned a blind eye to sale signs. Stuff will never give you as a good a feeling as being out of consumer debt.

Know what your rice and beans are.

I couldn’t eat rice and beans for a month to save cash. I mean, I could if we were living in poverty and it really was the only thing we could afford to eat. But restricting myself to super cheap food makes me squirelly. It makes me resentful. It makes me do stupid things like buy something to make myself feel better about eating rice and beans every month. Know what you can give up without too much fuss and know what is near and dear to you. Some people can go with rice and beans for months but if you ask them to cancel the high-end cable package and sell the DVR, they’ll lose it. For us, cancelling the cable, newspaper service, home phone line and going without a car were our rice and beans.

Keep some small luxuries.

My husband and I like to have some spending money each month to dine out casually or grab a coffee and a treat once or twice a week. If we had cut that I don’t think we would have lasted on our shopping embargo or continued on with cancelling services. We liked the small luxury of those treats and it kept us motivated as we diligently worked on cutting costs in other areas. So, if it’s your iPhone or your coffee habit or take-out on Friday nights, keep it and soldier on with cutting the fat in other areas.

Find a confidant.

Your spouse, a friend, a sibling. Tell someone about your goals and ask them to make you accountable. Start a personal finance blog and connect with others getting out of debt. A support network will increase your chance of success and keep you motivated.

Rethink everything.

Getting rid of our car was big. It was scary and I wasn’t sure if we would be turning around and buying another one in a few months. But we had to try it. We immediately started saving $140 a month in car insurance, earning $75+ a month for renting our parking space out and saving at least $50 a month in gas. Not to mention the ticking time bomb of big car repair bills for our 10 year old vehicle. Using public transit, a car co-op and the occasional rental never came close to the expense of owning a car.

If you’re trapped in a big home with a big mortgage could you rent it out and the rent something smaller for your family to live in? Could you sell the second car and bike to work? Could you take a job closer to home and go without a car? Could you get rid of your cell phone, tv, fancy bike that you never use? Everything should be on the table.

Forget about everyone else.

Ignore what your friends are buying and doing. If they’re living a lavish lifestyle without a huge income, they’re probably in debt. Smile when they give you a sad look because you decline an invitation to go in on expensive concert tickets. This is your life. Have confidence in your choices even if they’re not the norm in your circle of friends. You don’t have to be a loud mouth about it or all sanctimonious that you’re getting out of debt unlike them. Just quietly do the work. The feeling of being out of consumer debt, the freedom of it, is the greatest reward.

Want to read about more families that have beat debt? Check out this Babble piece for links to five families that have paid off big consumer debt in record time.

Any other debt beating tips out there? The other thing that continues to help me stay organized, enjoy cooking and shave a bit off the grocery bill is meal planning.

5 steps to clean up your browsing experience

home page, bookmarks, go!

This is the second in a series on decluttering your digital life. The first was about a better way to use Facebook and you can find it here.

Does your computer look like your junk drawer? Some areas of mine definitely do. Cleaning up files, photos and your inbox are for another post because today I just want to talk about your Internet browsing experience. Not even the amount of time but just how you navigate, read and save websites and information from them.

  1. Delete unused bookmarks. The other week I deleted a bookmark for the employee login for the job I left two years ago. Cull, cull, cull those links. Today!
  2. Rename your bookmarks. I’m working on being more conscious of how I spend my time online. One thing that has helped is moving all my links into three bookmarks categories: Life, Work or Entertainment. There are sub-bookmarks off these ones containing things like banking links (Life-Financial) and my favourite recipe websites (Entertainment – Nutrition – Recipes). Is food not a part of Life? Yes, it is but I don’t kid myself that browsing recipes isn’t entertainment for me. The mere act of having to go through one of those three links to go to a website helps keep my browsing on the thoughtful, instead of zombie, side.
  3. Set your homepage to a task. I’m trying to get in the habit of reading the NYT 20-30 mins a day before doing anything else. It not only feeds my brain but I find that if I don’t do it first thing I get sidetracked by email, blogging and my entertainment choices. You might set your homepage to your email, a reader like Google reader, Facebook or something else (let me know in the comments).
  4. Start using a browsing aid like Evernote. I love keeping snippets of articles and links to blog posts that I want to reference or read again. In the past I would bookmark the link or, gasp, email myself the link or text. What a mess. My bookmarks were hard to navigate and I never ended up going back to the links because they got buried under everything else. So I stopped bookmarking and started using Evernote. I can clip text and ad URLs and easily keep things filed for reference and reading. The fabulous Pinterest is also a great way to save images, organize them and avoid bookmark clutter.
  5. Limit your browsing tabs and windows. As the mighty Bruce said, 57 channels and nothing on. When you have 12 tabs open to different websites, you’re essentially flicking through channels. Try and cut down to 3-6 tabs and eventually just one. I’m really working on this as I notice I am more focused on my task, writing an email, researching a magazine to pitch to, talking to family on Skype, when I only have that application/tab open. It’s also embarrassing to catch yourself multitasking on a video Skype chat. Hey, I know we are 8 hours and thousands of miles apart and I rarely get to see you but I just got an email I want to open. Modern manners are the pits.

I’ll have a whole other post on ways to actually limit your time in front of the screen but that’s for another day.

Please share any tips, tricks or apps you are using that help keep your browsing experience clutter free.


minimalist make-up (if there is such a thing)

all that remains…

One summer I had two very important weddings to go to – my brother’s and my best friend from college’s – and decided that I would finally be a grown up and get grown up make-up. I was 22, had my first post-university job and thought an important step on my journey to adulthood was to toss all my mismatched drugstore make-up and blow over $200 at the MAC counter.

So I did it.

I got the full complement of brushes, bronzer, powder, foundation, six different eye shadows, lip gloss and mascara.

For both weddings I did my full make-up with dramatic eyes and heavy foundation. I felt a little silly at both events because I’d never worn that much make-up before. I looked good but it looked like, hey, there’s Rachel wearing make-up.

I made a commitment to “do my face” for work every day which I quickly forgot. Back to my regular routine, mascara, maybe a bit of eye shadow, and my investment make-up and brushes sat unused for years.

Buying expensive things isn’t a hallmark of adulthood. Oh how I wish I had learned this earlier in life.

My make-up bag is now, you guessed it, very simple. As pictured above I have:

  • tinted moisturizer and foundation primer
  • two eye shadow brushes
  • mascara
  • eye shadow kit
  • lipstick

Most days I just wear mascara but once or twice a week I like to jazz things up and put on my ‘face’ for date night or just because.

Now, I’m not into shopping for make-up. I find it overwhelming and have bought a lot of useless products in my lifetime. The items I have right now are great, work well for my skin type, colouring and needs. How did I find them? I asked other people what they used.

If you’re make-up challenged ask for help. Not necessarily from a sales person but from someone that has a look that you like. I found my tinted moisturizer from my older sister and my eye shadow kit from my twin (who found it via a friend). The lipstick was purchased from the make-up artist I had for my wedding. I’ll run through a couple of the products because I like them a lot. You can also look at various sites that review products so you can get good recommendations on products that fight aging while they make you look good. Note: some of them are what I would consider spendy. But, as you can see, I don’t have a lot of make-up and what I have I use

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer. If you’re not into heavy foundation this stuff is great. I recommend the foundation primer as well because the tinted moisturizer seems to look better with it on. I’ve experimented with drug stores brands of tinted moisturizer before but never found one that worked this well. If you have a cheap drugstore find let me know in the comments.

Too Faced Naked Eye – Soft & Sexy Eye Shadow Collection. This could be called eye shadow for dummies. The kit has three sets of three shadows that work together for three different looks. The kicker is that it comes with instructions cards for each of the three looks. This collection is a bit sparkly so if I were working in an office I would have gone with the Natural Eye Neutral Eye kit.

Paula Dorf Lip Color Sheer Tint in Breathless. When I went for a trial run of make-up for my wedding the make-up artist introduced me to this lip stick. It’s a very neutral natural colour. Just gives your lips a plug. I’ve dabbled in lip gloss for years but as I mature (read: get older) I don’t like the sparkly look of a gloss.

My other make-up secret: I get my eyebrows tinted. I don’t have a lot of eyebrow. Comes with the territory of not having a lot of body hair. So while it’s nice to not have to shave my legs that often, it’s a drag not having prominent brows to shape my face. I tried for a number of years to fill them out a little with powders and liners but it was a hassle and never looked natural.

A few years ago I discovered eyebrow tinting when I was getting my measly brows threaded. I haven’t looked back. If I had to choose I would toss the make-up all together for the nice defined arches my Esthetician gives me. Here’s a before and after. Excuse my pasty face in the after shot. I had the flu over the weekend. It wasn’t pretty but I’m now back on solid food.

brows without tint
I have eyebrows!

After a lot of trial and error (and wasted money!) through my teens and early 20’s, I feel like I have finally figured out what works for me on the make-up front.

Less really is more.

I don’t cover up blemishes any more. Instead, I give them some air and patience. I get my brows done every six weeks if I can but sometimes it’s more like 2-3 months. If I’m looking extra tired or my skin is looking sallow I don’t reach for more make-up. Instead, I try to get more sleep, eat more vegetables and drink a lot of water.

When I got married in 2007 I found an inexpensive make-up artist for the big day. She asked me to look through magazines before our consultation for make-up looks. I tried but there really wasn’t much that caught my eye. It was all very heavy handed. I just wanted to look like a better version of me. After a test run with false eye lashes (not for me!) we settled on some neutral colours.

On the big day I woke up to find a zit on my nose. Such is life.

wedding day pimples rock!

Of course, truly minimalist make-up would be none at all. But I’m into every day minimalism, the kind that anyone I know could apply to an area of their life. It’s not about eliminiating everything but making it simpler with less stuff.

Okay, tell me your make-up finds and gems! Link back to websites if you can.


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