spending on experience

While I have been shopping less, I haven’t exactly been saving more. I am naturally a saver, but in an effort to live more fully, we have spent money on several experiences for this summer. We sort of feel like we are making up for lost time. With having a baby last summer, we didn’t do much other than learn to be parents (of course, still a work in progress).

Last weekend, my husband and I set dates for a number of exciting summer trips that we have been looking forward to all year. Here’s what we wrote in permanent marker:

Memorial Day Timber Frame Cabin Raising
In March, my husband’s family labored together- for the second time- at the North House Folk School cutting timbers for their lake cabin. The project is scheduled to go up over Memorial Day. We are making a weekend trip of it to help out.

My son’s 1st Birthday and 1st Camping Trip – North Shore of Lake Superior
We have reserved a long weekend for this trip but no details have been formalized as of yet- except for his first little dip in the big lake and a dutch oven birthday cake (kicking off a tradition).

Outdoor Concert – Duluth
My husband and I are getting away for the night to hang out with friends and see some favorites on stage back “home” in Duluth.

Fourth of July at My Parent’s Lake Cabin
Again, long weekend escape from the city and time with family. And I do mean family. All the extended family is around for this annual reunion.

Sailing Classes Lake Harriet, Minneapolis
By far the most expensive plans of the summer. We are really looking forward to biking over to the lake together for four evenings of sailing instruction!

Grandparent’s 60th Anniversary Celebration
Definitely something to celebrate!

Hjordis Sailing Trip, Grand Marais, MN
This was given to us as a wedding gift two years ago, and we are just now making plans to use it. We will bring our son on the trip and do some end of summer camping, but the sail is a little trip around the harbor for just my husband and I to relax and enjoy some wine (or hot chocolate depending on the weather!)

So those are the big plans. Because we are camping or staying with family/friends, they really won’t cost much.

I have also been practicing filling my upcoming schedule with fun activities rather than the regular evening/bedtime routine or weekend cleaning and laundry rut. I have penciled in things like the School Board Candidate Forum, Science Museum Dinosaur ExhibitMIA Art in BloomWalker Art Center Family DayMay Day Parade to mix it up once in a while. All are free (or reduced cost for students). I make an effort to go if it’s on the calendar, though it’s only loosely scheduled to keep things simple. It is helping me to make sure our time isn’t eaten up with the mundane. Here’s to seizing the day!

lamps galore

We are settled in to our new place- for the most part. And we did it without the typically huge, expensive supermarket trip to get/replace a bunch of things that the new place “needs.” We did buy two things: cleaning supplies (the toxic kind which we HATE but will use only if desperate to do a once over of something in really rough shape- like our new tub) and a drain stopper so that we could give our son a bath (after we thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, rinse the tub).

The only other thing that we need are some lamps since the switches on the ones we had won’t be reachable behind our couches in the new set up. Seems a simple fix. Just buy some lamps. But in the last few weeks of scouring the internet and multiple stores for the perfect price point, size, shape, color, etc, I can tell you it is not.

And in the midst of my search, I stumbled upon this TED talk which some of you have probably already seen as it is from 2005. (I guess I was out of the loop back then.) The message is no less relevant today. Contrary to popular belief, more choices can make us more miserable. A powerful message for keeping things simple.

The living room lamps which by now I have wasted countless hours agonizing over and still have nothing to show for it, are a great example.

It’s time to settle this once and for all, so that I can get back to living my life. Today, lamps will be bought.

simply… fully?

It occurred to me that this blog has focused far more on the simply than the fully of its title.

It leads me to wonder: As a result of simplifying, have we (my husband and I) made more space in our life for the people and the passions most important to us? I’m not sure I can answer this yet. I think in many ways we have made our packed-too-full life manageable. The fully right now is doing work that we love, furthering our educations, and starting a family. This has come at a great cost to our social lives and our engagement in the community (outside of paid work). I think we are now net debtors of family and friendship favors, too. One day it will again be our turn to give, and I look forward to that. In the nearer term, we are excited to be able to entertain again once we move! And we have a long list of friends in mind with whom to catch up.

While our lives are complicated, they are also distilled. We know who we are and share a common vision for our future. We let our core values guide us and let go of the things that are not important in our hearts. Superficial does not exist here… nor does “should.” We do what makes sense for our lives which, though not always easy, is simple.

walking the walk: update

After majorly downsizing my clothes earlier this year, I sorted out the brand-name pieces in the best shape and sent them to Twice, an online consignment site. I chose this site because I have purchased clothes from them before, they make it super simple to consign by sending you a bag and paying for the shipping, and they accept most of the brands that I wear. It was easy! The turn around was several weeks but I made $53.50 (cash, not credit) from selling 18 items, and they donated whatever they couldn’t accept. Their standards are pretty straight forward so you have a good idea when you send it what you’ll get.

I made several trips to the thrift store for the non-name-brand items.

These two tasks were accomplished right away, but I had a really difficult time getting the rest of it out of my house. What was left was bound for local consignment, and (a) it was hard to find a place that would accept items that weren’t pressed and on hangers. Mine were clean and nicely boxed, but I couldn’t justify putting that much more time in to get so little in return. And (b) I just wanted to get paid and go, not wait around to see if it sells and for how much. I am sure there are benefits to putting in the time and work, but I am focused on keeping things simpler than that right now.

Plus, (c) with my husband’s opposite schedule, I had to find a way to get it over to the store with our 9-month-old in tow… No easy task when it means taking several large boxes out to the car and hauling them into a store (with inconvenient parking).

But this weekend I did it! And I made another $40.50.

Unfortunately, neither of the two places accept maternity clothes, so they are still here. I currently have an ad up on craigslist selling them as a lot. I’m hoping they sell before our move. If not, they may go to yet another consignment store or the thrift store if it comes to that.

Now it’s “one in, one out” from here forward. I received a gift card for my birthday which I’m planning to hold on to so that I can replace things as they become worn or stained, etc., which is now a bigger deal than it used to be. For the most part, though, I am enjoying the change. It has simplified laundry days, mornings, and, of course, our move considerably.

moving countdown

We are moving into a bigger space. Yes, bigger (slightly). I know that it’s not the minimalist thing to do, but it sure will simplify our lives. (The common assumption is that these things always go together, but it’s not necessarily so.) Currently, in our one bedroom apartment, we have given the room to our 9-month-old son, and we moved our bed to the “dining room” area so that we can get some sleep apart from him. After which our cat begged for attention each morning beginning at 3:30am until we woke and would then go back to sleep. With no way to shut him out, it was wearing on all of us. Thankfully, my mother-in-law has gladly accepted him into her home. Needless to say, for the health and sanity of all our family, we desperately need our own rooms. After investing incredible time and effort, we finally found a great two-bedroom within our budget in an ok location which says a lot in our all-time-low-vacancy market. And sooner than expected. We are in our new place in less than a month! It’s exciting but sometimes difficult not to let panic set in. I remind myself that we have already done a lot to downsize our belongings, but it is still SO much to move. Now, the major clean-out begins…

what we aren’t saying: minimalism and class privilege

I have been following minimalist blogs for a couple months now, and I so appreciate this online community. I would not be where I am in changing my thinking about consumption without the support of many down-to-earth simplify-ers and aspiring minimalists.

Still, I feel somewhat out of place here. Many of the most popular blogs that I read are written from the perspective of people who left high-powered, well-paid and benefited corporate careers for a simpler life and now have plenty of savings to show for it. I can see how that would feel great. It is in fact a very privileged position to be in.

I know privilege well because I, too, have a good education, despite loads of debt. I realize this was a choice. For me it was a choice to improve my life and others’. My income is modest because I work in social services with primarily poor people, and though my husband and I are practicing many of the same methods of frugality as others, we are basically getting by month to month, not saving a large percent of our income, which has worked out fine for us.

Still, because of my work, I am very aware that many people do without and receive stigma rather than praise. To them it is not called “minimalism.” They live on very little, but it is not called anything because it is mostly unacknowledged, and when it does come up they are looked down upon as “lazy” or “irresponsible” (a feeling conveyed in even many minimalists’ posts). So I want to say what most minimalists are not saying: the benefits of minimalism depend in large part on where you start. It is not a financial solve-all, especially for the incredible number of people who are working full-time and still living in debt and poverty because they can’t afford necessities. It is ignorant to assume that all of these people are spending frivolously. It is hard to save when rent and heat and healthcare and food costs go up and your income does not.

Minimalism does, of course, help, and that’s where I find it hopeful. We can take back some control. But as I reflect on this nagging class consciousness, I want to challenge us, myself included, to do more than declutter- to also demystify our privilege when and where it exists and acknowledge the reality that, minimalist or not, class shapes our lives in major ways. Even if we all do what we can individually to live simply and save, it is going to take much more change than that before we and our neighbors can all live debt-free.

the art of giving

In my anxiety over moving in the next few months, I decided to head down to the storage unit (which has spilled out into our shared basement) to tackle the task of simplifying stuff we haven’t seen, let alone used, for years. For the most part, I am finding it fairly easy to let go. It helps that I’ve dedicated myself to this, changed my mindset quite a bit, and am really on a roll. Still, there are those few quality things that I know I won’t use, but I like them so much they seem to deserve better than being thrown into a random donation bin. When I get stuck here, I have found it helpful and even enjoyable to think of someone in my life who might really love the thing too. Brainstorming in itself is fun, and offering it is especially great because it’s unexpected. Usually people appreciate that you thought of them and are grateful to take things they will use and enjoy off your hands. So far I have given away the following things with this result:
Clothes
Jewelery
Bowls
A teapot
Kitchen utensils
Books
And gardening stuff

Giving really is better than receiving, lately even more so.

turning a new leaf

I no longer want to be riddled with guilt every time I look around our apartment and see dying plants. I used to have time to take care of them. In fact, a couple of years ago, I had many more, and I was very proud of them. Slowly they’ve dwindled in number. I’ve given many away to friends and family as we moved the last couple of years. Now that my hands are full with a baby, I don’t have time to take care of even the ones I have left. They are suffering from neglect. Clearly:

beginning.jpg

While I normally reserve re-potting for Spring, this project couldn’t wait. I decided to consolidate what’s left of them into one or two pots. Much easier to handle as far as watering and care goes. Plus, it will free up some prime counter space.

I used one of the clothes bins I cleared out to contain the mess. (That project just keeps on giving.)

middle.jpg

It took about a hour… maybe a little longer with clean-up. With the winter this cold and drythey seriously needed a soil refresher. No wonder they were withering. Now I have two beautiful, and more importantly manageable (in terms of time and space), houseplants to make our apartment feel like home.

onetwo

And they must love it, too, because every single plant sprouted a new leaf by the following day.