No More New Things

No, I haven’t given up shopping though I think the amount I’ll be doing in the next while will decrease exponentially. However, after a number of purchase challenges lately, I’m of the opinion that in general, used is a better choice than new. I am finding that when I splurge for new (and/or expensive), the results are not often worth the extra money. It’s all fine to say “buy quality and you won’t need to spend so much” or “better one good item than several cheap ones” – but that’s not how it’s working for me much of the time.
Winter coat: I couldn’t find a used one. I did buy a new one. It’s red, it’s great. After wearing it for two days, it got spattered and dirty. Quite distinctly and unbelievably so. Oh well; but if I’d paid less, I would have taken it more in stride.

Purse: I bought a new (on sale – also like the coat) red leather purse along with the jacket. It’s fossil, a brand I love though did not own prior to this. Within a couple of days it was water-stained. Plus, though it seemed big enough, I ended up over-stuffing it so it looked too bulky. Paid around $50 (yes, not huge for a purse). At VV the other day, I bought a black small shoulder bag which I LOVE and which has become my new purse. It’s perfectly laid out, smaller than the red one, holds things better, and feels like the kind of casual efficiency I need. With my current life and activities, a small and efficient functional purse feels much better than a gorgeous red leather bag. I’m going to enjoy using it a lot more. I also won’t worry about the water stains or about damaging it – which will make its use that much more fun. Plus, the cost: around $3.50

Black wool v-neck merino wool sweater. Very nice, classic, bought on sale but still more than I’d normally spend ($30 – I”m cheap!). First wear, I snag the wrist on some of the omnipresent velcro in my life. Snags. Sigh, curse you lunch bags and baby goods! Other sweaters bought second hand are still unsnagged (why is that?!) and I like them just as much.

Rain jacket. Bought a new one in the fall as my first and big splurge, spending a few hundred (really don’t remember; don’t want to). After owning it for too long to take it back I realized that 1) the main zipper is sticky and hard to zip up, and 2) when I wear the jacket plus liner and have anything in the pockets, it’s too small and sticks out a the back. BLEH!!! Yes it’s nice but the wrong size. So incredibly annoying. If I’d bought one second hand I might have spent $30 on it – at the most – the look might have been comparable, and the fit too.

Ditto my red leather boots. Yes, gorgeous. But maybe a half-size too big. I don’t even want to think about it.

On the other hand: the majority of clothing I’ve bought second hand fits well, is in great shape, looks good on me. And, if I find it only works for a few wears, I’m really not out a lot. It’s an absorbable cost.

I don’t know if the high stakes of expensive and new purchases make me stupid. Or if the guilt of spending the money illuminates the flaws with these items. Or if it’s inevitable that I’ll hold those items to higher standards, and feel worse if they don’t work.

Or, potentially, the universe is telling me to just save my money. I don’t need new items. There is a glut of high-quality second hand items. I can get enough of what I want in that market, and save the money for better uses.

Note: there definitely are still items I will buy new. Personal garments, shoes in general, some basics that are cheap or easy or important. For sure. But many things can be got elsewhere, and I really want to try more. Just because I’ve saved a lot to date isn’t necessarily an excuse to splurge. But, if I do … that’s okay too! Just remember the lesson of the last few months and proceed with caution.

More Simple Solutions to Stressful Problems

Cutting baby’s fingernails = I can’t do it.
For the first year-ish, instead of cutting, I ripped them (really, there’s science behind that. They’re soft and easy to rip. No damage, and a softer edge than if you use clippers). Now that she’s older, she is highly resistant when awake (to ripping OR clipping) so I try when she’s asleep. However, the lights have to be on, so it has to be during naptime. That means weekends only. And sometimes her nap is entirely on my chest, or she’s in the stroller, or I forget, or it wakes her up, and basically,

I can’t/don’t do it.

Today I tried one of my sister’s tricks: I played a video on the computer while clipping them. Worked like magic! The video also rocked: Feist on Sesame Street. It rocks! The only problem: She wanted to watch it again. And again. And again. And it’s so catchy, whenever we broke into the song later in the day, she started “Unh, UNH!”ing and pointing back to the computer. Not really a problem compared to hazardous fingernails!

Also: what to do if your house is a complete, absolute disaster?

Solution: Go on a walk with baby while your husband cleans! Then go on a purging frenzy, this time with even more zeal than ever before. Things are going OUT of here! Our desks are neat, tasks are getting done: it’s like a new regime is in power. I love it.

Finally: Quick tricks to get rid of stuff when you just can’t seem to let it go:

  • Break it (series of bowls and glasses)
  • Lose it (two toques, baby’s little bird in the grocery store)
  • Sell it (recouping $$ for it helps the pain of separation. Recently sold: old kitchen table)
  • Talk on the phone while purging – you won’t notice what you’ve given away until it’s gone!
  • Recycle it: baby’s drawings, cute glass jars, business cards you feel obligated to keep: our environment depends on your contributions, so let them fly
  • Chuck it: Revel in the clear, empty spaces where moments before grungy sponges and scrubbies stood. It feels good. It is good.

You’re welcome.


I believe in hockey sticks

Second day of spring! So exciting! Woke up to snow!
The weather here is not what it was when I grew up. We used to have long, cold, snowy winters and long, hot summers. Lately, the seasons bleed into each other and it’s not predictable day to day what the weather will be.

Someone asked me once if I “believed in global warming.” I think I replied that I didn’t think it was a matter of belief. Now I would say that  I recognize that belief comes into any subject. I find it hard to evaluate the evidence on different sides of big debates: vaccines and diets come to mind. I know there are scientists and other people who have written contradictions to the global warming argument. In this case, knowing that the overwhelming body of evidence is on the global warming side, and having some awareness of the science-blind and manipulative politics behind climate denial, I would say that I believe in the existence of human-induced global warming and buy, 100%, the hockey stick graph (I never knew that name for it until a CBC interview on The Current last week).

Today was strange for other reasons. Work was busy. So many projects, so many connections to make, not nearly enough time. I pushed through and, I believe, got done all I needed though Monday will bring more.

I also got to participate in some scintillating back and forth regarding an upcoming workshop I’m supposed to do. Numerous people approached me with support and/or concerns, by phone and in person. I had the bemused pleasure of being told in a group email that the proposed workshop was a “waste of time,” followed by the real pleasure of being defended by someone who was initially skeptical. All of this I took with the flow, pleased with my ability not to take personally what was not personal.

And the day ended in the best possible way: 2+ delightful hours hanging out with my daughter in bed as we moved slowly but surely towards bedtime. Stories, songs, cuddling, playing, kissing, “this little piggy”ing, nursing, bottling and sleep. Time to bond with my favourite little person ever, who delights me more and more each day (she says “apple” now! and ball! (bau). Love!!)


As we proceed with decluttering and downsizing, I’m reflecting on a few ideas from other blogs.
The benefits of having a little bit extra is one idea discussed here. Some minimalists would have you eliminate all the fluff: one towel per person, one pair of sheets per bed, only the smallest of wardrobes, and throw out all the extra storage containers.

In fact, I have been finding that extra stuff often fills a useful purpose. Paring down to the bare minimum comes with a cost, just as having too much does. The trick is finding the balance.

I insist on at least 2 sets of sheets per bed. Two sets gives time to wash and dry one set, yet the bed can be ready for use right away. With a napping baby, this is very important! Extra towels, up to a point, are super useful when I’m washing sweaters and other delicates, to lay things out to dry. An extra pair of gloves and a hat would have been great to have around during a recent cold snap when a friend dropped by without. And I continually cycle through the assorted small purse-like bags I keep for the different small items I carry around. Similarly, a stockpile of envelopes and stamps saves time and money; a few extra bottles allows us to not wash them on late nights; and an extra few sets of pajama bottoms lets me get through a week where I may be soaked during bathtime and then peed on later in the night.

For me, there still can be too much. We never ever use up even half of our bath towels – I think we can safely turf a few. And when I finally really saw that I had an extra couple inches of old, used file folders, I knew it was time to get rid of them (as I have a couple inches of NEW ones waiting in the filing cabinet for all my filing needs). Finding the right balance is something for each person/family to determine.

Which brings me to another interesting post, about decluttering gone mad and its potential anti-feminist implications. This article made a lot of sense to me for a couple of reasons. First, I like beautiful things, I love nesting, and I want a home filled with beautiful things, though not too many of them. I can definitely see how the strict rules of decluttering, and the spartan discipline they inspire, could strip away items that are personally meaningful, leaving a home that is free of objects but also free of myself.

As well, I still feel like the caretaker of the people and the life lived inside my home. That stuff helps me care for people. Extra blankets for guests, spare soaps similarly, clothing duplicates for people who drop by, books to entertain, surplus tupperware to send away food. The stuff lets me care for people, and having enough of it spares me constant shopping and running out, an anti-woman result of decluttering.

I do love, love, love sorting through excess stuff and culling what isn’t needed. If I could do it as a job, I would. At the same time, I hope to bring a more compassionate tone to the process than I might have to date. Loving things … I know it might sound wrong, but I’m okay with it. Hanging on to objects that help you create a home … important. Cushioning your future by hanging on to more than the bare minimum: logical, useful, and completely acceptable.

Into Order

Our attempts to create more order in our home are moving ahead. We’re tackling different corners of our home together, purging as much as we can, and organizing what’s left.
A few nights ago we tackled the tea/food storage shelves in the kitchen. Gone: two teapots, two tea balls, some tea, lots of vitamins, one basket holding those vitamins. And other stuff.

Today/tonight it was the storage closet in the office. Gone: box for my laptop, pile of paper & old file folders, assorted notebooks, pens, stationery, a book or two, and other stuff. Repurposed: photo album, now to be used for recipes (once those are sorted). Other things (it’s late. I’m tired. But I”m here and I’m blogging!).

I’m quite excited to tackle some other areas (front entrance; laundry room; pantry; my section of the office). Tackling it together generally helps. Until we enable each other and end up  keeping more than we want! Overall, though, we’ve got the goal of downsizing in mind and are trying to be realistic about what we will use. If we have a stockpile of things (envelopes, anyone? Random little labelly stickers? Extra notebooks?) but we think we will use them (envelopes will get used up … in a few years. Baby will love the stickers. And some of the notebooks for drawing), we can keep them. But if it’s excessive (8 extra highlighters??? 5 or more blank journals when neither of us can remember the last time we used one?) we whittle.

Also tonight: paid a series of bills online.

This weekend: bake bread. Make lots of other food. Plan meals for the week. Make our wills (found a couple of online sites – will report back on this!). Get some exercise. Get a haircut (me for sure – tomorrow – hubby maybe). Dinner at the family’s!

And now, waaaaay too late: bedtime!

Say no to clutter

Getting rid of things in the house has been going well. The trick to keeping it that way is to stop other things from coming in. That was today’s test.
As I get rid of things I see items we own that are old, worn-out, ugly. Though I don’t feel that I want a lot of things, I do want to love what I have. The temptation is strong to buy nicer newer things right now to replace what we have.

Problems with this:

  1. That cycle will never end.
  2. I don’t always get rid of the old when I get the new.
  3. Another priority is saving money, and buying nice new things does not help with that.

Today I was out running errands and ended up in Winners to pick up something. Okay, a requested treat for my husband. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to take a quick look at their clothes and see if there was something I could wear for an upcoming event. And since I was there, I checked out the linens for another king-size sheets set. And found a gorgeous set of green pillow cases. I’ve just dumped a few of ours, so I thought new ones made sense. Possibly, some time after this, I checked out their kitchen supplies and found a rectangular glass storage container that had a RED TAG and would work for sandwiches. And hey, that’s on our shopping list! And possibly I spent around $20 on impulse purchases.

Back home I thought them through. I checked with my husband on the advisability of the purchases. He of course didn’t tell me what to do. But we talked through needing more pillow cases (no, we both agreed) and he mentioned something about the characteristics of the tupperware (a similar model he bought recently has a part that comes out, water gets in, possible mold source). So tomorrow, back they go.

Stop clutter at the source! Just Say No!

By the way, baby slept through again last night – 9:15 – 5. Then off and on until almost 8. But regardless, I am still exhausted tonight.

Don’t Cheap Out

This phrase has been running through my head a lot lately. As we’ve been purging and upgrading many of our possessions, and as I take a hard look at what I’ve been wearing, I keep coming round to a simple idea I’ve known for a while: it is worth it to buy quality from the start.

Diaper bags; we’ve gone through at least 3 or more and yet none are quite it. More money and time to look for the right bag!

Purses. I bought a sweet little leather one soon after baby was born. But, though it seemed okay, it just didn’t really work. So now it’s leaving since I have my new awesome bag.

Pants. I finally got some perspective on the pants I’ve been wearing to work, and it’s a bit disturbing. Ill-fitting, often wrinkly, too long, and mainly not good quality. And the other thing they have in common? ALL purchased at Value Village!

Stroller. Again, we’re on #2 and still don’t love it – slightly tippy, too big and too much work to fold. Sure, in total we’ve still spent only $100 on strollers, but a) that’s $100 less to get the right one, and b) we’ve now gone over a year with not-quite-right items.

Bed sheets. We’ve been getting by with too short (don’t fit around the pillow-top mattress), thin, poly-cot, DISGUSTINGLY stained sheets for months and months. Finally got a new set of sheets last weekend and I’m in bed heaven! It transforms the sleeping experience.

Baby bottles. Started with mishmash-mixed up ones. Then got glass ones that leaked. And leaked and leaked and drove us crazy. Finally got 2 Born Free bottles wiht the new breast pump and LOVE them. Solid, attractive, don’t leak and flow well. It’s like a brand new world, one we could have been enjoying for months. I can assure you that my anxiety and anger over breastfeeding problems would have been a lot lower if the bottles had worked better. Admittedly, some of the delay in this case was simply that I was in denial that we needed to use bottles. Nonetheless, we could have put in the research time and been – key point – WILLING TO SPEND THE MONEY – to get some good ones from the start. Oh the regrets!

Admittedly, some items do not need to cost a lot of money. My awesome travel mug was picked up 2nd hand by my mom for a few dollars. I do have some tops, pants (my cords – aaaah :)), socks, cardigans, on and on, that were purhcased cheap and/or second hand, are attractive, functional and make me happy.

And in some cases, just making do is enough. Not everything needs to be top of the line. Yet by and large, having things that work well and are beautiful makes life better. Daily activities aren’t interrupted by item-dysfunction. Attention isn’t distracted by clutter. The soul is uplifted by viewing beautiful objects in each direction.

Operationalizing the epiphany. First, get rid of all the excess. Creating space highlights the quality of what is left and allows new things to come in. I want ALL the dross cleared out. No more items in the closet that my hand hesitates over. No more furniture I don’t really want to sit in or touch. That is a waste of time and energy.

Second, think carefully about what I want and need. The list should be short and hit on key items. I don’t want an overfilled space now that it’s free. However, there ARE things I do want and use, and I choose to get them. I’ve realized that particularly in my wardrobe, those two factors – too much of the wrong thing, not enough of the right thing – are key to why I don’t like the way I dress. So, I need to ever so carefully define what I do want and deliberately choose to add those pieces to my wardrobe.

Third: spend the money. Yes, we have expenses. I believe in frugality. I am a saver. However, I’ve hit the point where acquiring what feel like essentials is a priority for me.

Fourth: then stop. I can see how shopping and perfecting one’s physical life can become and obsession. I do not want that. I’d like to spend some more time now getting to a stage where I feel comfortable with the things around me. Then: let it ride. Don’t head out every week or two to add something. Use what I have. And if it’s not working, reanalyze and get even more real with myself so I can make better and better choices that reflect my real life, values and loves.

I can do it and it’s exciting.

But first comes bedtime. Day 1 of the week down, 3 more to go.

Goals and Reality

First day of vacation. I ended the day stressed, lonely, sad and burned out. Time to reassess.
Though vacation is supposed to be joyful and fun, if you’ve been working hard it’s also the first chance to come down off of the adrenalin cycle and get back in touch with your real life. My real life today: a baby who wasn’t happy for a lot of the day; a ridiculously messy home; no time to write or really relax; no contact with friends.

Baby is teething, needing lots of attention, and strangely sensitive to quite a few things now. For one, she freaks out if you try to button or unbutton snaps on her shirts; and she was quite scared by the sound of the snaps I did up on our duvet cover, her diapers, etc. I have no idea what it is about that sound that upsets her! I focused on being in the moment, giving her my attention, setting limits where appropriate: no, you can’t hit mama (she loves to swing her hand at my face while nursing); no, you can’t grab mama’s glasses (she has a ridiculously aggressive and effective snatch move that can get my glasses in one swift motion), and giving lots of carry, hold, hug and kiss time. I am so glad to note that I did this. I also note that I did let frustration over other things (bottles not ready, house mess out of hand, etc. etc.), spill over into some expressions of exasperation, to put it mildly, though clearly not directed at her or said in an aggressive tone of voice. But still. Watch my words.

Messy house, messy house. Mess undermines my emotional well-being. And today I went even further and darker with it, wondering why we can’t manage to have a decent-looking home, and speculating that even if we had a finished home with lots of storage, I probably still couldn’t keep it decent-looking. I’m so sick of living in a mess. I’m sick of our furniture, of not being settled, of not being able to make the place beautiful because it’s unfinished and our furniture sucks and we can’t be bothered. I know people say babies don’t care about mess and maybe they don’t, but 1) this environment shapes her expectations for the future, and 2) it doesn’t work for me. Husband and I agreed tonight that yes, we’re trying to get out of this housing situation, that an unfinished and unsettled living plan makes it hard to nest, and that we will both try to be positive as we work to change things. So there. Positive about this from now on. And in support of that, I’ll mention that a neighbour just sold his house which has been on the market off and on for a few years. A minor point of hope for the future.

Though I’m trying to work through “writing a journal article in 12 weeks” and I know how important writing 15 min. a day is, I haven’t been able to get to it for almost a week. Really haven’t. I had about an hour today to “myself.” I chose to clean the really messy kitchen and make some food for me and baby. And then baby woke up. I had a few minutes to myself at the end of supper tonight when husband took baby. I chose to read a novel for those few minutes while I finished eating. And after baby went to sleep and husband and I talked a bit (truly an essential, vital thing to do), it was 10. I prepped some food, moved some stuff that needed moving for the night, and yes, checked gmail and facebook and read a couple short things online. I could have worked on my paper. But I didn’t, I really didn’t have it in me. And now I blog. So maybe tomorrow I’ll try again, and keep trying.

As for friends, I think I could reach out more and try and connect. I find it very hard to make plans with a baby. Yes, I know it’s a horrible excuse. My reality is that her schedule is unpredictable and I find it hard to leave the house on short notice: packing the diaper bag, prepping food for baby, diaper changes and a pre-departure nurse seem to take forever. And if I’m not pushing baby in a stroller, it can be hard to actually focus on the person I’m with since baby needs fairly constant monitoring or interaction.

My goals for vacation involved intense baby time and family time, settling into house and home and routines, and taking care of a number of to-do items. Today I had a chance to do the first of these. I still have weeks to do the rest. And baby is the most important, so I’m grateful that is coming first.

And with that, I’ll close, get some sleep and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

3 Things

1. Today, walking baby (2 hours of walking but not a hint of a nap!) I literally felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I remembered that I have paid off my student loans and have no personal debt. I feel so much more free. A world of possibilities feels like it’s opened up. Clearing up unfinished business, decluttering our house, getting focused on what to do with that house, all leave me feeling more and more energized and positive about building the future for our family that we want.
2. Today, officially and completely, baby walked! She’s done steps here and there to date, but maybe only 4 or 5 at a time. Today she walked feet and feet, up and down hallways; walked, turned, kept walking. She can do it! It’s so beautiful!

3. Today, those steps were taken in a friend’s home. We went to an open house at a newly completed home. Lots of people, old and new to us. The home is lovely, clutter free and simply decorated, looking like a gorgeous showhome. It isn’t completely what husband and I want for ourselves, but we love looking at places and discussing what we like and would do differently.
Like: the wide hardwood hand-chiseled floors. The open space. The lack of clutter. The bedrooms. The big kitchen. The central fireplace. The raised/sunken tub and massive shower.
Would do differently: smaller (this place was maybe 5000 square feet on 3 floors). A central hub of the living, dining room and kitchen with continuous flow between. A contained but visible kids’ play area off the kitchen. More of a cozy, sit around in a circle and talk and play games-feeling living room. Bookshelves. A more decked-out laundry room.

In general, it was a wonderful-feeling space to be in. And baby looooved the stairs and obviously loved the open hallways and landings as they inspired her to walk. The extra bedrooms for guests felt great and welcoming. The joy of walking through beautiful space reminded me that my ideal home is probably bigger than I’ve been admitting: maybe it really is more of a 1500 – 2000 square foot home (okay, or even bigger). Practicalities, though, make me crave smaller: build cost/materials; heating costs; cleaning time; and the simple frustration of taking so much time to walk back and forth across a space to watch baby, get things I need, check on dinner. Bigger takes more time in lots of ways, and I don’t love that.

Financial Peace

Today marks a major milestone: I just paid off my student loans. In full. All of them. Done!!!
I’ve been tackling them fairly steadily since I finished grad school 7 years ago. I had about $25K to pay back. Funny how the amount creeps up bit by bit as the years pass (note: that’s the total for 13.5 years of schooling, plus $1000 I paid back just because some time during the process). I made some big extra payments when I was working in Mississippi, but in spite of my love of all things financial, didn’t really tackle them seriously until I moved back home in 2006. At that point I made it my goal to get rid of them as quickly as possible. I lived with my parents and used every extra penny to pay them down. I rarely bought things except for occasional clothing binges at Value Village (mainly on half-price days). I went on interest relief, meaning I didn’t make monthly payments owing to low income, thus “saving” $300 some per month to put back onto the principal. I drove the same car – paid off in full to my roommate before I left MS (thanks again for the car – I’m still enjoying it.) I rarely ate out. I was FRUGAL! And sure enough, I paid off thousands in that time.

Then I got married and expenses changed and we had to figure out what to do with our money together. More went into savings. I kept working but also was off work for a few months. Then we were planning for a baby, which isn’t inherently that expensive but does cost some and I was not working for a year – thankful for EI benefits. In any case, money was accumulating and other expenses were dealt with but these loans weren’t our main priority.

Then we just decided to do it. I had the spare cash (around $4500) in the bank. Our only outstanding costs were my husband’s GST payments for his business, the house/loan, and these. So we went for it. Clear out these final debts so we can focus our money and attention on the house and what to do with it. I paid one off yesterday online, and the other in person in a bank today with a cheque.

It feels GOOD. Finished paying off my loans before age 40. NO PERSONAL DEBT!!! I feel in a much stronger financial position and better able to concentrate on other things we need to do. I no longer need to deal with In short, I feel peaceful. Being free of financial burdens – being free of any additional financial costs – is great. I look forward to continuing in this direction as a family as we focus on our next priorities.

Clearing the decks in every way creates peace. As our decluttering continues I’m noticing a greater feeling of peace in the house and in myself. There are fewer things to take my time and energy. Cleaning up is faster and easier. I have more time and energy to focus on baby and I”m noticing the results in my parenting with greater focus, patience and interaction on my part. I”m loving this direction!

So, what’s left the house so far you ask? Today I cleared out a box from the dining room table that’s been there for a couple of months 🙁 – papers & books associated with my Kyrgyzstan paper. I recycled 1″+ of articles and put 2 books in the give-away box. 3 books are keepers (maybe 2 … we’ll see!) and a 4″ stack of research notes and materials is sticking around until I get things published for reference. I also sorted our magazines, pulling out 4-5″ for husband to look through and discard, and 3 inches for myself. We’re down to one stack of mags, which is much more reasonable. I also sorted a random pile of papers with baby stuff and other things, getting rid of a few things and finding the right home for others. We’ve also eliminated:
-2 pencil sharpeners
-a big crock pot (going as a gift)
-ironing board
-more baby clothes

Incoming items include: 5 books (found from my brother; to be read and discarded); 8 bells (new toy for baby! need to string them); 2nd set of measuring spoons and icing spatula (not sure about these 🙂 – not my contribution. But husband has felt the need for both); a double breastpump (needed for work efficiency).

Now: must sleep. Am wiped. Baby took hours to fall asleep. Sigh. We’ll keep trying.