Sunday, January 29, 2012

Frugal February

Every once in a while, Lilly and I like to participate in mini challenges.

We've done the 21 Day No Complaining challenge where you start at day 1 with a string or rubber band tied around your wrist and try to go for 21 days without complaining. If you complain, you have to transfer the string to your other wrist and start over at day 1. It took us a long time to complete that challenge.

Other challenges we've done have been shorter, like our No Spend Week challenges. We stock up on groceries and gas for our cars, and don't buy a single thing all week. Those challenges are fun, but they definitely involve meal planning - not my strong suit.

The most recent challenge that we did was a Get Outside of Your Comfort Zone Week challenge. Each day had a new comfort zone challenge - such as wear something you wouldn't normally wear. I bought a frilly blouse, put on heels, makeup, and did my hair with one of those pompadours on my head. It got great reactions from my co-workers, but I was highly embarrassed with the attention and was happy to get back to my plain work clothes and comfy shoes the next day.

This February we are going to be doing a month long challenge that we've named Frugal February. Basically, we are challenging ourselves not to buy any non-consumables for the entire month. That means only food and hygiene products, though we both agreed that we probably have enough hygiene products in our stockpiles that we won't need to buy any. Purchasing experiences like going out to dinner or going to the zoo is allowed, just as long as we don't buy any souvenirs to take home with us.

The goals of this challenge are to make us aware of our spending urges, help us save some money, and hopefully in the long run, help us stop buying so much stuff to bring home and add to our clutter. During the month we will be posting about the spending urges that come up and keeping a tally of the amount of money we're saving ourselves by not purchasing those items.

Wish us luck and feel free to join our challenge!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Art of Simple Cooking

I love to cook (unlike some people I know, you know who you are). At an early age I was taught to cook and knew the importance of that knowledge. Even at 7 or 8 I was able to use the stove and oven. It feels natural to me to cook and bake. I know for many people they are afraid to cook or feel really uncomfortable in the kitchen because they have never had to cook. I am here to encourage those people to take that next step towards being a Big Girl who loves the kitchen and enjoys the art of cooking.

This why I encourage all of you fearful people to start participating in the longest form of art known to mankind. (Not sure if that is a fact but you would think so since we have had to cook to eat ever since we were created). IT MAKES LIFE SIMPLER! It really truly does. I know you may not think so BECAUSE Dinner happens....every night, whether we like it or not. With dinner come dishes, planning, making sure everyone will eat it, and making sure they are some what nutritious, especially if you are a Mother. But it really does life a little easier because 1. You do not need to go out to and pick something up, 2. Your trash will not be overloaded with to-go packages, 3. You can throw something together in less time then picking something up, 4. It is healthier for you, and 5. It costs less.

Not only does it make life easier but once you get the hang of it you will seriously enjoy it. Trust me...I know what I am talking about. I do it all the time and I really enjoy it. I enjoy watching others taste my food. I enjoy watching my children clean their plate. I enjoy the smell in the house from all the yummy food cooking. When I have time I like to make new dishes that require a little more effort but on a regular basis it is just dinner or just lunch, nothing extravagant, but it is still something I created to nourish the bodies and souls of my family.

OK, OK, Even for me, I can understand sometimes you may feel like it can be a chore. Like everyone else I do not always have the time to make the dinner that I would LIKE to have but as a Mother who tries to make every effort to simplify things I had to come up with some guidelines for simple meals.

Simple Meals mean:

Fewer ingredients - so we don't need to go to the store

Fewer dishes - being used to make it and eat it = less to clean

Less time - Less then 30 minutes to prepare and cook = more time with family

Simple dinners usually please everyone. Let's face it your 5 year old is not going to mention how she can really taste the mint you used in that sauce. In fact they are not even going to try some of it because "What did you put in there?! Yuck!". So the fewer ingredients, the higher you can bet on whether or not it will get eaten.

As you can tell I am trying to a home cooking revolution so if you have some simple recipes or meal plans share with us, we would love to try them out.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Kid Conundrum

I was a very imaginative little kid. Growing up with only a half-sister who lived far away was lonely at times so, instead of imaginary friends, I had imaginary siblings; I became the 6th Cosby kid.

My imaginary siblings and I all got along very well and played games and laughed with each other for hours at a time. It was so much fun that I decided I would make sure to have lots of kids someday so that they would always have real siblings to play with.

When I was in 6th grade, I remember telling my mom that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: “Mom, when I grow up I want to have 12 kids and live on welfare and be a jolly, fat housewife who bakes cakes all day!”

I’m not sure where I got the idea, seeing as how my real mom was a teacher and my pretend mom, Claire Huxtable, was a lawyer, but I thought it was a fabulous plan for adulthood.

My mother, on the other hand, was appalled.

Lucky for her, I gave up that dream pretty quickly.

As I got older and began to revise my plans for the future, the number of kids that I wanted dropped to 6, and then 4, and then 3. When planning out my life, I thought that 24 sounded like the perfect age to become a mom. In reality, at 24 I was living in a termite-infested apartment, eating giant bowls of chocolate chip trail mix for dinner every night, and spraying Formula 409 on my moldy dishes rather than washing them. I was definitely not ready for children.

Now that I’m 29 and thinking seriously about starting a family, I've begun to wonder how my minimalist, decluttered lifestyle will fit with children - more specifically, their toys.

After we moved into our current apartment, my sister-in-law came over and pointed out a nice, empty spot in my living room where I could put her hand-me-down play kitchen once I had my own kids. I was panicked! Would I have to keep a kitchen in the living room?!? Aren't toys stored in the bedroom? Will my kids have so many toys that they spill out of their room and into other rooms in the house? Surely there is a law against kids owning too many toys?

I recently read a book called Simplicity Parenting where the author referred to a frightening statistic: The average American child receives 70 new toys per year! Multiply that by the 3 children I was hoping for, and that number goes up to 210! If we assume that children receive toys as gifts up until 6th grade, or age 11, that equals 2,310 toys that I will have to assemble, find batteries for, trip over, sit on, glue back together, wash off, and put away - multiple times a day!

Does that number seem obscenely high to anyone else?

I understand that people love to give presents to their kids. I spoil my nieces rotten at birthdays and Christmas! It is completely hypocritical of me, but I do it because I want to show them how much I love them. But is it fair to teach kids to measure how much someone cares by the amount of presents they give them? Shouldn’t we instead show them love with hugs and kisses, and attention?

What values are we teaching our kids by giving them so much stuff? I can't think of anything positive.

On the other hand, there are some great values that we can teach kids by not giving them so much:

Appreciate and take care of what you have. If kids have fewer toys, they are more likely to spend a longer time playing with them, and will take better care of them knowing that there aren't 15 more toys just like it in the toy box that they can play with if one gets broken.

Using your imagination can be just as fun. Kids love to explore and dig in the dirt when given a chance! My friends and I grew up playing outside. We built forts, played restaurant, spies, hide and seek, tag, trapped salamanders and rolly pollies for pets...There was no limit to the games we could come up with.

How to share. With less toys, kids are more willing to share them with others. Apparently when there is not enough to go around, humans are more willing to share. Whereas when there is an overabundance of something, we all become greedy little hoarders.

Not everything in life is just handed to us; Sometimes you have to work for what you want. I remember wanting a Magic Nursery doll when I was little. My mom made me work hard for that doll! I scrubbed bathrooms, cleaned the kitchen, and dusted all weekend, but finally I earned enough to buy it and all the anticipation and hard work made the doll that much more special.

Whether I end up having 1 kid or 12, I am definitely going to try to do things differently. Of course I’m not saying that my kids won't be allowed to have toys - but you can bet they'll be getting far less than 70 per year.

Besides, don't most kids end up ditching their toys for a stick and an empty cardboard box anyway?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Closet Cleanup

Inspired by Lilly's decluttering projects, I decided to do a bit of decluttering of my own.

My first project was the hall closet. There wasn't much to get rid of, but I was able to straighten it up a little bit:



Like I said, there wasn't much to get rid of, but I like how it looked after and that's all that mattered. :) It looks even emptier now because I was able to use two of those mailer envelopes recently, which totally made me happy. Using things up is just as much fun as decluttering things!

My next project was my clothes closet.

I would love to be one of those people who always has a cute outfit on. Unfortunately, laziness and comfort always win and I end up wearing outfits like what I currently have on: My husband's blue and black plaid pajama bottoms which are about 3 times too big for me, red slippers, a gray t-shirt and a fuzzy teal bathrobe complete with hood. And I would totally go to the store in this outfit, if I thought my husband wouldn't disown me!

Back to my closet. In an ideal world, I would be one of those minimalists who only owns 2 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, and a sweater. Instead, after pulling out all of my clothes from the closet and the dresser, this is what my pile looked like:

After going through the pile and removing clothes that hadn't been worn in the past five years, shirts that had shrunk in length once washed, itchy fabrics, and reducing my skinny clothes pile because by the time I diet my way back to that size at least half of the clothes will be out of fashion anyway, this is what I was left with:

 Still way more clothing than I would like to own, but it's a good start.

This is what I got rid of:

5 t-shirts, 8 tank tops, 14 hanging tops from my closet, 5 pairs of shorts, 5 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of pajama pants, 3 pairs of work pants, and a purse.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

I've been busy

Over the two weeks I was off, I cleaned and organized a couple areas of my house and two areas of a friend's house. I did not get as much done as I would have liked, but being the pro-simplicity mother that I am, I choose to spend more time with the family and less time organizing. To be honest at some points I was really aching to get back to organizing but the egg nog next to the fire kept calling my name. Which means that you are going to get even more posts with before and after pictures.

Here is what I did so far.....

Children's bookshelf BEFORE and AFTER

The tea and baking cabinet at my house BEFORE and AFTER

Toy Corner at my friends house BEFORE and AFTER

After I completed the toy corner at my friends house her daughter asked me a few questions.

How long did it take?
It was actually pretty quick, I got the children involved and had them make all the descions since it was their stuff. We had three of us working on it and one of us (me) was frequently saying let's see how fast we can get this done, so with less then 10 seconds to decide we were done in less than 45 minutes.

What did you do with all the stuff? We had four piles; keep, donate, toss, and bring toy to Dad's house to match with the rest of set or give to so and so. The we bagged them up and put them next to the door so that Mom could take them to the Goodwill or where ever.

Wasn't it hard? Not really because we found out that most of the stuff was outdated and needed to go. Also underneath the intial clutter there was some good organization that Grandma had going. Most of the art stuff was in one basket, the games were all in one area, and so on. It was just getting the top layer of things that had not been put away placed in the correct area.
These same answers went for the areas of my house that I decluttered. It is just getting up and doing to it that is the problem.

Keep a look out for more pics to follow as I continue to declutter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grace by Candlelight

Last night during dinner I saw the lights flicker a little and about 30 seconds later out they went. With a quick glance out the window I realized the entire neighborhood was out of power. The kids got an excited but uneasy feeling about it being so dark, so I lit a candle and put it in the middle of the table. We enjoyed the rest of our dinner by candlelight.

On a normal evening I have a bunch of things that need to be done; like homework, dishes, laundry, baths, hair brushing, and stories. Usually I would get a little flustered and think to myself, “Oh great, now things are going to pile up!” Instead I made a conscious decision to not get worked up.

After dinner I left the dishes on the table. I lit a couple candles around the house. My husband decided to head off to bed as he has to get up early for work. I got the kids all curled up in bed together with the portable DVD player and a soft candle nearby. I ran the hot water for a bath and crawled into the tub. The sweet smell of holiday candles filled the house while the dim candlelight made for a peaceful bath. For some reason as soon when it is completely dark the kids began to whisper. The quietness of the house gave the feeling of midnight; however it was only 7:00pm.

We all had Peace.

After the bath I brought a glass of milk to my daughter and cuddled with her in the room as I brushed out her hair. She fell asleep in my lap and I was soon to follow.

The last couple of weeks have been filled with activities and decluttering. I could not help but get a little drained. Last night it was probably the most relaxing evening we have had in a long time. I did not make my son do his homework in the dark. I did not rush to get the dishes done or throw a load of laundry in. I simply gave into the grace that was given to us with a simple switch of the lights.

Grace and peace are things I had longed for. By acknowledging that they had arrived, we welcomed the joy and let the relaxation began. I was reminded that by being present or conscious of what happens in daily life I was able to accept this gift with an open but tired heart. I was reminded that simple things like warm water on your skin, cuddling under the blankets and the taste of food by candlelight should not be taken for granted. I felt favored at that moment and an immense amount of gratitude. Some might think of this not as grace, not as a gift, but as an inconvenience; I warn you now the subtle gift of the electricity going out in my neighborhood was no inconvenience but a much needed shove toward a new year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Just In Case

One of the most common excuses I hear from my decluttering victims - I mean friends who graciously agree to let me help them declutter - is that they can't get rid of something because they might need it one day. Well, friends, let me reassure you that if you haven't found a need for it in the past year (as indicated by A. the inch of dust covering the item, B. the fact that we found it buried in the way back of your closet underneath an unopened 2008 calendar, or C. your exclamation of "I didn't even know I had this!"), it's pretty safe to assume that you won't ever need it - so get rid of it!

I have been getting rid of stuff from my home for a few years now and I can't think of anything that I ever regretted giving away. If you ask my husband the same question though, he will immediately bring up the Soup Pot. He loves to tell people the story about how I gave away a PERFECTLY GOOD SOUP POT, only to have to borrow his mom's every time we wanted to make soup, until we finally got our own as a wedding gift from my mom.

So now I'm sure you're all siding with my husband and feeling so sorry for him that he has to deal with his crazy wife who gives away all of their prized possessions. Well let me tell you about this fabulous soup pot. It was useless! You couldn't even cook with the darned thing because the bottom was warped and it wouldn't sit flat on the stove top! How do you make soup in a lopsided pot?!?! And here's the other part - all those numerous times that we had to borrow his mom's soup pot? About 5 times. In a year. Remember my last post? I don't cook!  

In reality though, my husband is pretty great about my whole decluttering obsession. So if his Soup Pot story is the only thing he's going to tease me about, then I feel pretty lucky!

The moral of this story is this - despite your protests, you won't use it, so give it away to someone who actually needs it.

The other moral of this story is that decluttering wives are always right. :D