Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Resolve that I Needed

Sometimes my mind wanders back to the way things were.  I start to feel a bit flush with cash and I start to think of all of the things I could spend it on.  I could really use some new shoes, a new pair of jeans, a cookbook, Brighton would really like that toy.... you get the picture.

And then sometimes I get that little wink that says, "You're moving in the right direction."  It's that little boost that re-energizes me along our path of simple living.

I went out for tea last night with some of the other mom's from Tristan's scout tribes.  One of the ladies asked me, "So how is the packing coming?" and I responded saying how surprised I was at how little we actually had.  For a family of five, our possessions really do not amount to much.  After the year of purging that I've had, we're down to a very reasonable (though not exactly minimalist) level of "stuff".  I said that we now only had two boxes of books for adults, two for the kids, and the kids were down to under two weeks worth of clothing.  This statement was met with shock, and honestly a bit of horror.  "Oh I could NEVER have that little!.... We love reading too much.... My daughter could easily has 1500 books, she reads a ton every week!  My daughter's walk in closet is stuffed full!"  To which my reply is always to visit the library, borrow from friends, it's okay to get rid of things, there will always be more around the corner, etc etc.  But I find it often falls on deaf ears.  And that's okay.

I have gotten to the point where I don't feel the need to justify my choices.  I am only responsible to my family, no one else's.  I have a duty, along with my husband, to make the choices that are right for ME and MY kids.  We are happier and calmer when there is less stuff, less mess, and less choice.  I think it was the boost that I needed this week!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Today I am...

- Baking banana bread to use up the last of the over ripe bananas I have stashed in the freezer
- Making a batch of baked potato soup in the crock pot.  There is nothing better than soup at using up odds & ends.
- Finally tackling the ironing pile that has taken over my utility room
- Not going to go to sleep until I have finished ALL of the laundry piles
- Packing up my sewing supplies and looking forward to having my own sewing room in the new house
- Dreaming of painting my kitchen table a sweet buttery yellow
- Sorting through the stacks of paper that seem to multiple on my desk
- Anxiously awaiting this upcoming move!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Renting in a Buyers Market

I apologize for my rather length absence, I do have a good excuse though!  We have been consumed with searching for the perfect home to move to, and it proved to be quite a difficult task.  You see I live in a city where it's very uncommon for families to rent, there is an obsession here with being a home owner.  In fact you are rather looked down on as a second class citizen in these parts.  Saying you're a renter, is almost like muttering a dirty word under your breath.

Our local newspaper actually wrote an article about it a couple of weeks back:
Calgary renters rebelling against the 'cult of home ownership'

We knew all of this going into the rental search, but what we didn't realize is what it would mean to us in our home search.  What it translated to from landlords was an awful amount of suspicion about why we wanted to rent.  Some rental applications made me feel like a criminal, wanting credit checks, reports, pay stubs, work references, personal references, credit card numbers WITH expiry dates.... I was surprised they didn't ask for a blood sample and blood testing by the end of it all.

We looked at many houses:  some were too big (who wants to clean and heat 2200 square feet?), some didn't have any storage space, some were on busy roads, some had no amenities in the area and would require a car to go anywhere.  We learned after moving to our current home that in the end the house is not the most important thing, the location of the house is what matters.

So what did we decide on?  In the end we went for a small house with great storage, on a quiet street, with a peaceful backyard with a fenced in vegetable garden and mature lilac bushes.  We can walk to the local rec centre and are just around the corner from the local school.  The landlords are a nice older couple who just retired and are moving to Washington to live with their daughter and her family.

This is our little beauty (only 1060 square feet!)

We take possession in less than four weeks, so if I'm not very consistent on blogging you'll have to forgive me.  I will definitely keep you posted on our moving, downsizing, and simplifying journey.  Each step we take that brings us closer to moving is a huge weight off my shoulders.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Goal Update

We are starting to come out of the fog of almost 2 weeks of sickness, and boy am I glad!  I've managed to accomplish some of the goals I set out, and am trying to get back on track to finish up what still needs to be done and plan for the next week.

So how did my no-spend week go?  Well it ended up being not quite a no-spend week.  I caved and bought some clothes for Brighton on e-bay.  I did feel some guilt about the purchase, but honestly it was a decent deal at $75 shipped for a Hanna Andersson quilted baby jacket, dress with diaper cover, shirt, pants, hat, and hair bows.  Actually it included another jacket as well, but the seller relisted it and will give me some money back on the sale.  Not bad - now other than shoes and a couple of summer hats I can definitely say Brighton is set for clothing for the spring and summer.  Other than that slip up, the rest of the week went okay.  I washed both of our vehicles ($12), and did take the kids to McDonald's ($10).  But overall it was pretty good considering all of my spending was another $100.

Sell $50 worth of "stuff".  As of today, I'm up to $75 for the month of February.  I want to keep a running tally and see how much we can raise!  Last month we sold approximately $225 worth of stuff.  I'm loving it!  I also have a van full of donations to drop off.

Declutter living room, bedroom, and baking shelf in garage. Not done yet.  I have a few more things to clear out of the living room, the bedroom I only accomplished my side table (which is now nearly completely empty), and I will finish the baking shelf today and post a picture.

I'm going to hold off of posting any more specific goals for the rest of this week, and give myself some breathing room to clear out some of the things I need to sell and finish up the decluttering projects I've already started.

I did it!  I finished the baking shelf today, and I managed to purge more than I anticipated.

Here's the before:

And the after... much better!

I purged a huge bag of plastic cups we bought for my son's first birthday party (he turns 6 in June!), a cast iron frying pan, an extra loaf pan, extra muffin pan, plastic party trays, chocolate fondue pot, metal pie dish, glass punch bowl, and a few other little odds and ends.  I'm feeling quite accomplished now!

I still need to tackle this mess though:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Simple Pleasures

I have been dealing with sick children for over a week now, and am starting to feel a bit care worn.  It's always humbling to be the caregiver, to know that someone is relying on you completely to meet their needs and ease their pain.  It's not a time where you can put yourself first or worry about your own needs and wants.  It's exhausting and rewarding all at the same time.  And it makes you appreciate those little steps that we all take to keep our own sanity in tact.

I really, really love silence.  I don't think I quite appreciated  how much I love silence until I had three very loud children come into my life.  Now I relish in it.  I love nothing more than to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea by the fire.  It's restorative.

Which is why I have gotten into the habit of waking up at 4:30am, so that I can shower, and sit quietly with a cup of coffee before the hectic pulse of the day begins.  Right now everything is still, everything is quiet.  It's just me, the cats, and a cup of coffee.  Bliss!

(until you hear the footsteps of a four year old coming down the stairs... apparently it is time for the day to begin)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Being Honest

Courtney Carver wrote a brilliant yesterday on asking the soul shaking question.  I love blog posts that make me stop and give pause to the bigger picture.  Asking ourselves "Why?" is sometimes the hardest question imaginable.

The question I asked myself was, "Why do I have all these great intentions, but consistently fall short?".  The answer - excuses and inconvenience.  There was a great quote at the very beginning of the documentary Fresh, "Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience."  Powerful and true.  I could easily make my own bread, I have the knowledge, the skill, and the tools to do so, but it is far easier to pick up a loaf at the grocery store.  I could line dry my clothes, but it involves being more organized so that I'm not trying to catch up on 10 loads of laundry in a single day.  I could avoid buying new, but it would involve not always having exactly what I want, when I want it.

I like to think I'm not the same as every other mindless consumer out there, but the fact is, intentions matter for nothing.  Action is what matters.  On a consistent, daily basis I need to give pause to my actions, consider how they reflect my beliefs and intentions, and decide whether I am making the correct choice.  It means calming the impulses, being more patient, and living intentionally.  Not an easy thing to do.  But if we want to change the outcome, we have to change our patterns.  You can't expect to lose weight if you continue to eat the same as you always have, and you can't expect to change your financial picture if you spend the same as you always have.

I am going to spend some time in reflection today and come up with a personal mission statement for myself.  Something that I can reflect on daily, put in my wallet, put on my computer monitor, something that forces me to pause and consider my actions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Random thoughts...

Still dealing with sick kids and lack of sleep, so welcome to a little piece of what's been running through my head...

- I love the content on The Everyday Minimalist, but it drives me completely crazy that the site itself is anything but minimalist.  It hurts my head to look at it

- I wonder if it truly is possible for your head to explode by listening to the non-stop chatter of a five-year old

- My son is apparently a thief and has been swiping Lego from the kindergarten classroom.... must figure out a way to make him really the zillion pieces of Lego he has is already a ridiculous amount, he does not need to steal to obtain yet more of it.

- I have crossed the line from loving coffee to needing coffee.  I'm committed to not doing a grocery shop this week, which means I am rationing coffee, and I'm cranky.

- My fuzzy bright pink marshmallow robe my mother in law bought me for Christmas is quite possibly the ugliest thing I own, but it's too comfy for me to care.

- I've decided one can truly never own too many Mason jars.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stain fighting power!

I wish I had a more exciting post for you today, but I've been dealing with a sick child and a husband out of town.... saying that I've been "scatter brained" is putting it mildly.

I do want to share this AMAZING stain remover with you all!  I found the recipe on Pinterest, and it is truly incredible.  My kids have this habit of covering themselves in tomato sauce and orange juice.... and I have a habit of ignoring stains until I get around to doing laundry.  This results in pesky stains I can't get out, and I cannot bring myself to let my kids wear stained clothing, it nags at me every time I look at them.

This is a super frugal recipe and you probably already have the items on hand.
1 part Dawn (I use the regular old green Dawn liquid)
2 parts Hydrogen Peroxide
and if you feel like you need some scrubbing power, a sprinkling of baking soda

Mix all these up, pour it on the stains, rub them in a bit, and let sit for a few minutes (I wouldn't leave it on too long as the hydrogen peroxide may discolour your clothing).  Then throw everything in the washer and be amazed when it comes out CLEAN!

I have used this on a multitude of colours from light to dark.  And I've even used it on set in stains that have been washed and dried.

If you give it a shot let me know how you like it!

I wish I was more organized and had before and after pics for you, but yeah, that's not happening today.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Decluttering Dilemma

I'm running into a bit of a dilemma in my decluttering mission.  I'm trying to find the balance between having the things we need to be as self sufficient as possible, and keeping things that are rarely used.  I have so many baking pans and kitchen appliances that some have been relegated to a shelf in the garage.  This is where my canning pots, angel food cake pan, and huge tub of 100+ cookie cutters live.  I would love to say, "They're rarely used, I'll just toss them!" But then what do I do when I want to can jam and apple sauce?  Is it really necessary to own an enormous pressure cooker?  No... but it sure does come in handy when I'm making stock out of a turkey carcass.  And do I need to own 100 mason jars?  Of course not, but when I need one it sure is nice to have a variety of sizes on hand.

There seems to be a pretty fine line between having enough, and having too much.  It's a pretty individual decision on where that line falls, and I guess I'm just trying to figure out where the line is for me.

Here is the shelf in all its disorganized cluttered glory, I'll try to update later with what decision I come to.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Goals and Spending Plan

Sunday seems like a good day to sit down with a cup of tea and contemplate the week.  I tend to overwhelm myself with long term goals and planning, I think I need to slow myself down and plan things one step (or week) at a time.

Nick is far away in jolly ol' England this week.  Sadly his 99 year old grandfather Jack passed away, just 6 months shy of his 100th birthday.  My mother in law generously offered to pay for Nick's plane ticket, so he seized the opportunity to spend some time with family.

While he is away I am going to try to have a no-spend week!  I have a tendency when it's just me and the kids to spend money just for something to do.  I'll grab a coffee, order pizza, swing by McDonald's, stop by the dollar store to pick up some craft supplies... I am pretty good at wasting money just for the sake of wasting it.  So this week I am having none of it!  While my budget is $0, Nick's is $400.  Hopefully he won't spend it all, but the money is there in case it's needed.

The exception to the no-spend is renewing my vehicle registration ($84.95), and paying the cell phone bill today ($120.75).  Other than that we can make do.

Aside from not spending money this week, I want to bring in at least $50 selling things around the house.  I've already decluttered and sold quite a bit, so I'm digging deep on this one, but I'm sure it can be done.

And as for decluttering, I want to work on the living room, bedroom, and baking shelf in the garage.  In preparation for our upcoming move I'm trying to be ruthless about what we truly need and use, and what we just keep for the sake of having it around.

Why I will NEVER buy a new car again

As part of our bankruptcy, we let our 2008 Hyundai Entourage van go.  We could have chosen to keep it and continue to make our monthly payments, but let me tell you that I am super excited about actually OWNING the vehicle that we're driving rather than OWING on it.  It far outweighs the pros of having a newer vehicle for me, and I wonder how I could have ever thought it was a good idea to buy a brand new car.

Here's a little calculation to prove my point.
The original purchase price of our previous van was $43,478.60.  We financed it at 0% interest, with $0 down.
Over the four years that we owned the vehicle we made a total $25,362.40 in payments which left a remaining balance of $18,116.20.  We also put in a total of $2,356.87 in repairs.  So over the course of the 49 months we owned our van we paid about $566 per month to drive it.  And the kicker - with its condition and mileage, it's only worth about $12,000-$14,000.  So factoring in the depreciation, the REAL cost of ownership was approximately $650 per month.  Now remember this is not a luxury vehicle, this is a people-hauling utilitarian mini van.

Our current vehicle is a 1993 Toyota Previa with 288,000km on it.  We paid $1200 for it, and had to put $2600 worth of repairs into it.  So the current cost to us is $3800.  If we have to put an average of $100 worth of repairs into it monthly, and we drive it for 24 months, it will cost us $258 per month, and that's not even factoring in what we could potentially sell it for at the end of those 24 months.  It also doesn't take into account that the cost of insuring it is HALF of what our newer van cost.  A savings of $400 per MONTH.  $4800 per year!

Now what would I rather do with $4800?  Save it towards retirement, save it for my children's education, save it towards my dream home, go on a dream vacation - LIVE DEBT FREE BELOW MY MEANS.  It can be done, it WILL be done.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A new beginning

I have really wrestled back and forth with how to write this post, and whether I should even write it at all.  Much has happened since I last updated almost two months ago, and it left me questioning if I really wanted to put it out there.  In the end I decided that it's something that should be put out there, because I don't think enough people are candid with their finances, which leads to so many feeling like they are alone in their situations.

We declared bankruptcy.  Phew - scary thing to say, and scary thing to go through.  I'm sure that you can all appreciate that this was not an easy decision to make, so let me enlighten you as to the reasons we ultimately decided it was necessary.

Back in mid-December I lost my job.  It was a surprise, but not really.  I had spoken with my boss back in November about the future of my position, knowing that our current project would be wrapping up and my job would become obsolete.  She assured me that they had a plan in place and wanted to keep me on.  Unfortunately, the plan did not come to fruition and the work dried up.  I have still been told that they want to find a position for me, but when and if that will happen remains to be seen.  Being that I am a mother of three small children, finding a position that earns $1500-$3000 per month after expenses is not particularly easy.  So now we're down to one income.

Then we had the issue of our 2010 taxes which we still had not filed.  We knew that we would owe money, but as to the amount I was scared to even hazard a guess.  We finally quit procrastinating, and when the number came in, I just about fell over.  We owed $1600 in corporate taxes, Nick owed $5500, and I owed $2000.  I stayed up until the next day crunching numbers trying to figure out how we could even afford a monthly payment plan for the taxes, and I just couldn't.  We had reached the tipping point where we could no longer sustain our monthly payments, let alone make any headway on paying down our debt.

Nick and I both just looked at each other with heavy sighs, threw up our hands, and said, "Something's gotta give!"  We called the bankruptcy trustee the next day.  At this point we hadn't solidified in our minds this was the route we were going to take, but we wanted to know our options.

As it turned out there was another factor we hadn't considered: Our House.  Our home has been an ongoing saga and a constant reminder of the bad decision we made when we bought it.  We are upside down on our mortgage with no hope of selling, and the thought of trying to wait out the market was a constant black cloud over our heads.  Our trustee told us we could let the house go with the bankruptcy.  We hadn't even considered that before, but as soon as he said that, we knew what we had to do.

Now I know that not everyone agrees with bankruptcy, and I know that not everyone agrees with foreclosure.  I will admit to being one of those people that perhaps judged these options too harshly.  I want to remind you though that these options exist for a reason.  This is giving us the opportunity to have a future... without the bankruptcy, I don't know how long we would be treading water, trying desperately to get ahead but not really getting anywhere.

I want to make it clear that this does not mean we get to just "walk away" from our debt.  We will be making payments for the next 21-24 months.  We are "allowed" to make $4059 per month, after that amount everything else we make we will owe 50% towards the bankruptcy (our current monthly payment is $645).  This also does not absolve the debt we owe to my mother in law, to the tune of $45,000, it also does not absolve our corporate taxes, or my own personal taxes (Nick is declaring bankruptcy, I am not).  So we are far from out of the woods.  But there is hope, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and for that I am thankful.

I am thankful for finally having some breathing room.  I am thankful for the opportunity to show that our past mistakes do not reflect who we are TODAY.  There are drastic changes ahead for us... I hope that you'll stick with me along our path to financial redemption.