Week 6: The Only Thing You Can’t Replace

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Last post in the Clutter Cleanse for 2016. Thank you for joining in, sharing your wins on Facebook and Instagram and celebrating living a bit smaller so you can enjoy more of life.

I started this blog to motivate myself to have less stuff. It felt like the walls of our condo were closing in after a stretch at home on maternity leave and the addition of a lot of stuff I thought we needed for the baby. So I started giving away, selling and donating things we weren’t using. It felt good. Things snowballed. Suddenly we were spending less money and were on the fast track to paying off some serious debt. 

We’ve been trying to live with less for almost five years now. And my biggest takeaway from trying to get a bit minimalist-ish is that I have to align what I give my time and space to with what I value. And one of the things I value most is time.

Time is my most precious and finite resource: that feels even more clear and urgent right now as I near forty and the gong of mid-life is ringing. Who and what do I want to give my time to?

Time is one of the reasons I am so passionate about not having a long commute and living in a walkable neighborhood. Sure there are some downsides to not having a backyard but the time positive to being so close to so many amenities, parks, the sea wall, library and so much more is worth it to me. I love a road trip but my husband and I will and have done a lot to make most of our day-to-day lives function on foot.

Still, it’s not always perfect. We mostly drive our son to school right now. After a lot of hand wringing and searching for alternate modes of transport and even mulling over moving neighborhoods, we accepted that we couldn’t ‘have it all’ right now with a school in walking distance. It’s not forever, there should be a school to walk to within the year, but for now we drive more than I like. It’s been a good reminder: I don’t like driving. I don’t like packing my kids up in the car. The time feels wasted. I also know that this dislike of driving isn’t universal. I’ve met many happy well adjusted folk with fantastic lifestyles that enjoy kicking back in their car for thirty minutes twice a day to listen to audio books or the radio or to just be in a car alone with no one asking anything of them. I get it.

So, after weeks of getting rid of things, what is it that you want more of in your life? Is it time, a person, laughter, home cooked meals, sleep, education, love or premium? There is no wrong answer. But there should be some answer. Even if you already knew it before you started hauling stuff to Goodwill. You should know that there is something you want more of in your life. If you already have it you should be guarding it. Don’t let stuff or misuse of time steal any of it from you.

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For Anyone Wanting Reasons to Slash Your Commute

This is a hot and beloved topic for me. As a time junkie I am fascinated at how we can essentially do the unthinkable, make more time, by changing where we live, work and get around. So read on if you want more ammo for cutting your drive time. Or close this email/browser window right now if your fine with your driving or feeling crushed by your commute that you cannot get out of right now.

It is ridiculous to commute by car to work if you realize how expensive it is to drive, and if you value your time at anything close to what you get paid. – Mr Money Mustache

If you can, go read this article in The Guardian titled The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Cities. If you have a bit more time go check out this post on the personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache The True Cost of Commuting.

Now, read the following statistics taken from The Guardian article which is an excerpt from the book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

  • A person with a 1 hour commute has to earn 40% more to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
  • People who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.
  • People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

Need a few more shockers to help shake you out of the commuter mindset? From Mr Money Mustache:

  • The 40 minute car commute for a couple driving separate cars is conservatively costing them $125,000 over 10 years and 1.3 years of worth of working time each.
  • Think it’s too expensive to own a home closer to work? MMM says each mile closer to work saves you enough money to take out $15,900 more of mortgage.

Look, I know it can’t be perfect. We can’t ‘have it all’ where we live either. But we can come pretty close by deciding to live without a few things – yard, a bedroom for each kid – so that we have a few more hours a week to do with as we please.

What do you want more of in your life? Has decluttering helped you put more of those loved activities/people in your life?

Week 6: Happiness is…

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How’s your home looking? More importantly, how are you feeling about stuff, your attachment to it and what those small buying choices ad up to after a few years?

This is the week to stop selling DVDs on Amazon or getting rid of those cute on the hangar but painful in-person bras. This week is about the bigger picture. What could having less and living a bit smaller give you and others?

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Forget all of your “but I can’t because ____ ” for a moment and just consider some of these ideas. Disregard that you just refinanced your mortgage, or moved to a bigger home, or bought a second car or got an awesome job that doubled your commute. You’re not selling or buying or changing anything when you suspend your reality for a second and daydream.

If I lived closer to work/school/amenities I could:

  • walk to work
  • get rid of our second car
  • spend more time with my spouse/friends/kids
  • spend more time on myself

If I moved into a smaller home I could:

  • spend less time cleaning
  • lower my mortgage or pay less rent
  • spend less time on tidying/moving the lawn/home repair

If I quit some of my/my kids /evening/weekend activities/classes/commitments I could:

  • go to bed earlier and get more sleep
  • find the time for health/creative/work goals that I really want to invest myself in
  • save more money to retire earlier or give more to charity or travel more
  • feel less rushed
  • spend more time with the ones I love

These won’t be easy things to think about. Some of you may just say it’s not the time for you to open this can of worms. I get it. I truly do.

However, if you’re interested in seeing how the ideas and practices behind this modern minimalist movement can benefit you in a bigger way than a closet full of clothing that you actually wear and fewer impulsive home ware buys – this is it.

This is the stuff that really excites me. One day you’re cutting the cable which feels pretty radical and a few months later you’re trying your hand at living without a car. You started this journey just hoping to finally clear the basement so you could put a second television down there for the kids or finally renovate for a guest room but then the basement is empty and you’re thinking, why do I need this extra room? The kids are finally playing in their rooms because they can find their toys and my reading chair is no longer piled with clothing so I have my quiet spot to finish The Goldfinch. Could we live in something smaller?

It doesn’t mean you have to act on these thoughts or opportunities. Simply coming to the realization that you maybe don’t need as much as you once thought you did is a huge win. Because if you can see that what you once thought of as a need is really a want, you’ll feel much more content with what you do have.

So… think about it. I’ll have a few more posts up this week and a wrap up for the Clutter Cleanse with more resources for those of you still feeling the weight of your stuff.

Week 5: money habits

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Talking about Finances this week as part of the 2014 Clutter Cleanse.

One of the tougher pills to swallow when you purge your home is all the things you bought that you didn’t really need or use. Things that you spent money on. Things that you worked hard to make money to buy.

When a bag of items heads to Goodwill and you can calculate that you worked four eight hour days to pay for everything in that bag… it’s sickening.

First, don’t despair. As I have said before, the money was already gone. It was very helpful for me to remind myself of that, sometimes daily, when I did our big home purge in the fall of 2010.

Second, use the harsh reality of your poor purchases to help you reshape your financial habits. With fresh eyes for what you really need and use, for what really brings you joy, you’ll have built-in momentum to go minimalist with your finances.

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The best strategies are simple and easy to implement.

Know Where Your Money Goes

You could be like us and enter every expense and bill into  You Need a Budget. We’ve tracked spending for over four years now and YNAB as it is called is our current financial tracking app. If you want a review of YNAB check out this post.

Or you could make a quick note at the end of the month on where all your money went from receipts, bank statements and credit card statements.

It doesn’t matter what route you take to get there but you must, must know where your money goes every month if you want to have simpler finances. One of the easiest ways I slipped into more debt was from never really taking stock of what my actual bills were and what I was spending each month. Keeping yourself in the dark about your own finances is like avoiding standing on the scale. In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Tip: if you try one tracking tactic and fail at it, do not give up. I went through at least a half dozen tracking systems and twice as many false starts with them, before I not only found a system that works for me, but made a habit of tracking.

Live Below Your Means

So so simple and yet, so many of us don’t do it.

Hopefully you’re smarter than me and embrace this simple and powerful concept early in life. I was 32 before I got it. Thirty-two may seem late or like I’ve missed the boat but it’s never too late to start living on less than your pay check and available credit.

This works. Really. It’s not always easy but when you get it right and make a habit of it, it gets easier. It’s automatic. When a whim or an opportunity comes up that you can’t pay for in cash you don’t justify a splurge – you decide if you’ll still want it in the months it will take to save for it.

What about those unexpected bills? When you’re living below your means you can save up an Emergency Fund. This is critical for the expenses you can’t plan for like a root canal or car repairs.

That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned about financial health in our minimalist journey: know what you spend and live below your means. Very simple and hopefully achievable for most of you. I’m obviously not a financial planner or even a financial blogger but if you want more on this subject I really enjoy Cait’s Mindful Budgeting series.

Note: there are families out there that legitimately can’t get their needs – food, clothing, shelter – met on their current income. I know about that scenario because I grew up in a large single-parent family and we struggled to pay basic bills.

If that’s your situation I know that minimalism might be able to help you rethink some areas of spending, but you’re probably already living where the rubber meets the road as they say. There isn’t any fat to cut or meals out not to buy or new cars to sell and replace with older cheaper models or preschool Mandarin lessons to opt out of.

Sites like Penniless Parenting, Money Saving Mom and The Frugal Girl can give you some ideas for stretching your dollars but you may already be doing all those things. All I can say is, solider on friend. Keep going and I hope your work or life scenario improves soon.

Week 5: Money Money Money

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For some of you this is a bye week. Yep, you get to relax and rest up for next week. Or if you still have work to do – get at it! If you’re feeling good about your financial life, on top of your bills and not in debt and pretty happy with what you earn and how you spend it, take this week to work on any home de-clutter projects you missed and get yourself ready for week five.

 

For the rest of us this will be a tough week. No heavy lifting, no trips to Goodwill, no teary recycling of your fifth grade Language Arts binder.

This week we’re talking finances. Money. How we use it for good and how we sometimes use it for bad. How we feel about ourselves when we think about our financial life. And if we’re in debt, the little sigh we let out when we open our student loan statement or why after getting news of an unexpected bill we order takeout instead of using up what’s in the fridge.

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What are Minimalist Finances?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that changing how much stuff we have and how much stuff we buy, and searching for more simplicity in our lives, has radically changed our financial life and how we view money. This change has lead to getting out of a considerable amount of debt and finally feeling some peace about where our money goes each month.

If you’ve struggled to stick to a budget or feel your finances are as cluttered and confusing as that giant box of family photos you grabbed from your parent’s house, I hope you’ll stick around this week. We’ll hash out ideas for spending less and look at ways to get out of debt and take control of our finances. I’ll share ideas from experts, our financial story and the many things we tried before we found success.

People would rather tell you about their most embarrassing moment or have semi-nude photos of themselves pop up on Facebook than talk about money. And not talking about these things is one of the reasons so many of us let things get out of hand.

If you’re in debt or feel like you’ll never be able to stick to a budget first know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

So here’s my hall of shame for finances:

  • I once got a credit card because a picture of my rowing team was on it. The APR was ridiculous but I said I was never going to use. Guess what? I maxed it out.
  • From 17 to 33 I always carried some form of non-mortgage debt. I thought this was pretty normal.
  • Even after committing to getting out of debt we took a very expensive last-minute vacation. We were not perfect then and we aren’t perfect now.

Some of our minimalist wins for our finances:

  • My husband I paid off over $80,000 of non-mortgage debt in around two years. We used a lot of minimalist concepts to become debt free, it wasn’t easy and we got a couple of big breaks that drastically helped us get the number down quickly.
  • We’ve tracked 95% of our spending to the penny for the last four and a half years.
  • We haven’t carried a credit card balance in four years.
  • The biggest win: communicating frequently and without judgement about spending and our financial choices has been really good for our marriage. That hasn’t always been the case but today we’re on the same page about where our money goes and why.

A big question for you now: do your finances feel like your basement/attic/hall closet? Is there a correlation between the clutter in your home and the clutter in your financial life? There certainly was for us and I am interested to see if others have experienced the same thing.

Oh, and if you’re not comfortable talking about finances right now feel free to file these posts away for another time. It’s a big subject with a lot of emotion tied to it. Take a Clutter Cleanse rest week or pick away at some other areas of your home.

Week 4: Kid Clothes

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Talking about Kid Clutter this week.

Are you struggling with kid clothing? It’s not surprising that parents find themselves run over with children’s clothing now that we buy five times as much clothing as we did the in the 1980s.The problem isn’t just with buying new either. As anyone that has accepted bags of free hand-me-downs knows there is so much out there at low or no-cost, it’s tempting just to take it all with the thought that it’s better to have too much that was free then be stuck having to buy something new.

Despite having three boys and loving hand-me-downs we’ve been able to keep our kid clothing to a reasonable amount with a few rules in place.

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1.) We try to have mix and match wardrobes. This reduces one-off outfits and items that only work as a set. Right now the guidelines I’m working towards are:

  • bright tops
  • no navy tops
  • no gray bottoms *exception for sweatpants

If my kid’s clothing was all based around these rules we would have no ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ days where the baby is dressed in gray head to toe or the three year old is wearing navy everything. Unfortunately we got a lot of sweet clothing as Christmas gifts that don’t adhere to this color system. It was great quality so for now, bring on the head to toe navy!

2.) We only store the best pieces for hand-me-downs. Right now I have two plastic boxes of that are 75% full with seasonal clothing and items for our younger two to wear. There is a three year and three size gap between our oldest and second born and there is almost no sizing gap between our 1 year old and 3 year old. Those gaps mean that right now things come off the second born and go right into the ‘baby’s’ wardrobe. Win for no storage!

3.) We know that relatives will give clothing gifts. Our boys all have winter birthdays so knowing that, and that we also get a lot of clothing gifts at Christmas, I don’t have to keep every last piece of winter weight clothing for the next boy – just our favorite pieces. Now that we are living in a hot summer location I’ll be more inclined to keep summer clothing to hand down because we don’t get it as gifts.

4.) We have smaller wardrobes. The older two have 4-5 bottoms and then roughly 10 tops of varying weights. The baby has a bit more because he often requires a mid-day outfit change. My barometer for how much we have is, can I still find stuff without folding any of it and can we make it a week without doing laundry.

5.) We try to wear outfits at least twice before washing. Not a possibility with the baby right now but the older two can re-wear outfits 2-3 times. This is a huge help for cutting down on laundry.

My situation is pretty easy because a) my kids are young and b) they have NO INTEREST in what they wear. Really, almost no interest. Our middle child is sometimes picky about what he wears but I’ve forced the issue a couple of times and now the item he didn’t want to wear is a favorite. I can see that he will be more work when he is older.

This tale of the easy life is no help to anyone that is struggling with a five year-old demanding multiple outfit changes a day or teenagers that refuse to wear anything you have purchased for them.

So, friends, we all need your help. Parents of older children or those that are picky dressers, how do you manage keeping the closet full of just what they’ll wear? Do you put a limit on how much clothing they can have? Do you remove items seasonally and as they outgrow them? Do you let them make all the choices?

The best part of blogging is the conversation in the comments. That’s where I learn new strategies and get previews of things to come in my household. So please, tell us your secrets. And if you are struggling with this problem in your own house, share the problem. I am hopeful a few parents of older children have developed some strategies we can all learn from.

For anyone curious about what our clothing storage looks like with three kids: we have two IKEA Algot stand alone basket systems. Each boy has two of the small baskets and then we have one large basket that holds some of the baby’s next size clothing and has some spare linen. We will have to expand this system as they get older simply because their clothing will be bigger.

P.S. Too much clothing for babies and toddlers is still a parent driven problem. Thank people for gifts and then donate anything you won’t use. Return those 0-3 month size jeans for store credit and just keep what you’ll use over five to seven days.

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