Archive for the ‘downsizing your life’ Category

How to have a Successful No Spend Month

Please come in.  Have a seat.  I want to show you some of the plans I made for a no spend month. What?  No I don’t think I’m being too dramatic.  Trust me I have lots of examples of that.  The only way I can alter my behaviour is to be intentional.  Here is what I needed to do.  First I had to recognize my patterns, where I spend and what to do when I feel the pull to my ancestoral stomping grounds. OK yes that one was a little over the top but I know I am going to struggle in two top areas.

First off I am a hunter/ gatherer.  I do not like the mall but I do like to hunt.  I have a favourite thrift store. It is staged every week with new things and i love to explore and find out of print book titles, vintage mirrors or sunglasses.  I drop things off at least once a week and then I swing in just to look.  The paperback books are .50 so what’s the harm? No that was a rhetorical question.

The other weakness is eating out.  I like to have someone cook for me. I like not having to take the time to prep. and cook and just be able to eat.

Neither of these things worked with my plans so I needed a default.  One of the things I did was check out some of the local foraging.  No not portaging.  Foraging for materials to make my baskets, or for alder tree buds to make salve will help with the impulse to search for treasure.  No I do not have access to a canoe or gold panning supplies.  Can we stay on track?

For the eating out I’ve pooled some of my gift cards, or coupons that offer a free anything consumable and will have them as my safety net.

Being invited out to someone’s house is OK as is being taken out but the point is not to continue in my old behaviours.  For me that means not wasting money eating out when I can cook for a fraction of the price.

To have a real no spend month I needed to take stock of my supplies in my freezer, fridge and cupboards.

I needed to plan some meals around the food stuff I already had.  If I don’t have it and I want it I have to learn to make it from scratch.  If I’m missing an item I will need to substitute.  You can barter or swap items with friends or family but try to create some sustainable habits.  For the last few weeks I’ve been writing down our dinner meals to help me come up with quick ideas.  Allrecipes.com comes with a search function that allows you to enter the ingredients you have and ones you do not want.  There is also PInterest for specific food items and accompanying recipes.  With both of those the caution is that you do not know if the recipes will be to your liking.  I am making lists of some of my favourites that match my supplies so I am less tempted to run out and yell my requests into someone else’s window.  No I do not mean a neighbors. No I will not be yelling in your window.  I’m sorry to have alarmed you.

The other thing I will have to do is throw out all flyers before reading them to avoid temptation to get a deal. I will also have to stay off of the auction sites.  I usually go to try and sell but inevitably look at what everyone else is trying to sell.

So here we go.  There is no avoiding the fixed costs of life.  The taxman frowns on that behaviour. It is the variables that are to be frozen with the exception of some perishable items.  These will be listed in advance and the list is surprisingly small.  What’s that?  Yes you are still invited for dinner.  No it will not be foraged.  You are welcome.  Meeting adjourned.

Use it or Lose it

This morning I stand in my closet of superhuman costumes and I do not know know how to choose. Today I need to be The Stuff Whisperer (Please insert your own heroic music), but I also need to be the Pied Piper of Pennies (What exactly does “pied” mean?). Unfortunately the two fight domestic disorder in different ways. Saving, upcycling, and repurposing can be at cross purposes with purging and simplifying. You may well be huddling with your picture frames that just need a good sand and some chalk paint, or the box of empty jars that would be great for votives or cookie mix gifts, wondering if you are saving the world or have unwittingly gone over to the dark side.
You may be thinking, “Leaping leftover casserole Deb. Is there no hope? Will I always have to choose between a simplified more stress free lifestyle and saving money?”
Take heart gentle citizen. There is one battle where they can unit. It is organization (cue the triumphant music).

To that end I offer a few simple ideas.
There is a lot of free stuff that comes into the house that gets tossed. In the kitchen it is the packets of ketchup, salt, pepper, paper napkins and soya sauce (don’t judge me). If they do get kept they are thrown into a drawer never to appear until they all get tossed.
These routinely get ignored in place of the purchased ketchup.  Why?  Why not use what we have?
Here is the compromise. They do you no good hidden away. What I did here was take three of my favourite pretty little bowls and place them on the kitchen table. One has ketchup, one soya sauce and one with salt and pepper. Feel free to be impressed with the groovy graphics border.

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The way I work is that to use it I have to see it. The bowls make me smile because I love their colours. If it doesn’t work to have them on the table these are stacked in the cupboard with the spices so they are not forgotten.
On the shelf below the spices lived in an unhappy jumble and I’ve often bought 2 or 3 containers of the same spice because I couldn’t see what I had. An easy fix, after you go through what is too old and needs replacing, is to have a lazy susan so that you can see everything you own and access it without tearing apart the cupboard.

I told you the bowls were cute.  I wish I’d taken a before picture of the spices below.  They were all a right mess before the lazy susan. I had three containers of poppy seeds.  I do not think I will ever bake enough muffins to justify that quantity.

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In the bathroom I dumped out everything and put all of the samples in an atrractive box that sits on the counter. These get used first. No buying new hand cream, facial cleansers or even shampoo until the samples are gone.
Getting the samples is only a deal if you use them.
These are just a few simple life hacks where simplifying and saving work well together.
I would love to hear your ideas on organizing your life to save money.
Up, up and oy veh. Oh my sciatica.

Let There be Peas on Earth and in the Stir Fry

I will admit that there can be a rather chilly detente that occurs in my refrigerator.  There are certain shelves that see a fairly brisk rotation of items. These spaces are the accepted free trade region.  To the sides are the condiments that are the story keepers, the elders of the fridge that rarely cede their spots to newcomers.  In the crisper I do my best not to let the denizens liquify but how much parsley do I really need?  Oh sure I could freeze it but as long as it is visible I can tell myself I am going to make a fresh and healthy soup.  It is a green leafy badge of clean eating superiority.

So what has this all got to do with being penny pinched?  I admit that some days I am intimidated by my fridge.  I open it and see random supplies and am not sure what to do.  I might see one dish for a meal but I get a little sketchy on how to make it reflect the food rainbow.  I’ve been told a handful of M & Ms does nothing to meet the requirements of the bottom of the food pyramid.  Elitists.

That being said I realize I will never balance my food budget or dietary needs without some help. I had gotten into the habit of buying new food because I didn’t know how to use up what I had.  This is where I found this helpful tool on allrecipes.com.  I had been looking for the perfect cornmeal muffin recipe and I noticed that one of the search engines was to list the ingredients I wanted and also the ones I did not want.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.  I decided to haul everything out of my fridge.  Green Peace launched a formal complaint as the contents of the veggie crisper were being considered as a part of a self sustaining eco system but I prevailed.  I found recipes that would use up the scraps of cooked chicken, 1/2c. of green beans, red pepper paste and pearl onions.  I began to make headway into hostile territory and dismantle the peculiarly stacked architecture of tupperware, take out boxes and ziploc bags. (In my defence there was really only one takeout box but the visual image was too cool not to use).

I also found that Pinterest became a great place to store recipes that worked for me with veggies where I was lacking a bit of imagination.Translation: I sometimes need encouragement to not settle for just meat and potatoes.  The photos help.

This new year coming up I am setting Friday as ifits day.  If it is in the fridge then that is what’s for dinner.  If it is still there the next week it is time to shuffle it off to that great compost pile.  My goal is for a couple of empty shelves because I learned to use what I already had.  Now to go back into negotiation with my tartar sauce who is staging a sit in.  Wish me luck.

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Can’t See the Forest for the Sleeves

OK maybe the title isn’t one of my better literary efforts but this is what happens after two days of trying to pack a suitcase and being unsuccessful.  The embarrassing part is that this is not my first trip to the rodeo (I did not just use that cliche.)  I had decluttered most of my wardrobe, matching outfits with jewelry etc.   It would have been a cunning and clever plan IF I had tried on everything first.  It also had another fatal flaw (see how I’m building the dramatic tension?).  I had a closet full of black pants and matched each one with a suitable top. Unfortunately I cannot bring 9 pairs of black pants with me and not all work with all the tops.  There are four variations on a yoga pant.  One is comfortable, a bit worn and the draw string really shows when under a top. The second is newer, has a more subtle waistband but a small paint stain on one leg. The third is a soft wide leg with pockets but keeps on lengthening due to the material.  The fourth is the newest but too figure fitting to wear with any shirt that doesn’t cover the bum.  Did I mention the dress pants with the faint pin strip in case I need to look businesslike, the flowing pants that would be great for the opera, the clam diggers or the two pairs of thick leggings with faux leather applique?  Of course I have two because the applique on one is on the side of the legs and the other is on the knees.

I will spare you the horrors of the toppings section ( I feel like an ice cream sundae), but I came back to the struggle between style and comfort.  What looked good was not necessarily what I could wear on the sort of multi climate zone trip I was going to take.  Unlike decluttering blouses and sweaters I found letting go of pants too hard.  My lifestyle requires clothes I can trash with my sculpting.  My textiles get lint on everything.  I have clothes for that so I don’t go out looking like I’ve rolled in an old man’s jacket pocket.

Bit by bit the pile of working clothes has grown out of control as well.  I justify that I can turn them into rugs one day but the chances are slim.

The truth is that by hanging on to all the “almost works” pants I didn’t realize that I did not have a basic black pant that was great.  The clutter of “must keep” clothing didn’t let me know what I needed.  Slowly I started matching the tops I wanted to take with the pants as they lay on the bed.  A clear winner emerged for the yoga pants that would serve for hiking and a slim pair for the boots that would walk me around Istanbul. The tops had to either go with one of these two pairs to make the cut.  I allowed myself one skirt and though I only have three, one is for summer, one is in a different colour theme and the lucky winner manages to work with three of the tops.

In the end I had a pair of city pants, country pants, and a skirt..

I learned I had no sweaters, no fleece, no raincoat and 16 camisoles.  Over the next few months I will try and refine the wardrobe into wearable outfits that mix and match and fit properly.   If I can also manage to get a cool hair style and balance my budget I will have pulled a hat trick of domestic bliss. I am reluctant to get rid of things that still fit.  It seems counter intuitive  but if I know what I really need I won’t waste money buying the wrong thing. Maybe the next time I want to get away I will be able to pack in less time than I will spend on my vacation.

Leaving you a trail of breadcrumbs out of the forest, Deb

Going back into the Closet, the Honest Truth

Fashion trends make my eye twitch.  How can you trust people who repeatedly tell you that the only way you dare leave the house is if you wear neon plaid and then a few months later tell you that you don’t dare leave the house if you wear neon plaid.  These people are unstable, undependable and are in the business of making us continually neurotic about our appearance.

I know this because as an artist I do check on the colour trends that are forecast for upcoming seasons to see if my jewelry designs work with the random insanity.  I then go and work on whatever appeals to me, generally metallics, textures, pieces of metal, sculptural elements  and pieces with a story.  I don’t go to shopping malls, read fashion magazines or have any respect for people that pay the price of a car for a purse. Whether it is $20 or $2000 a pen exploding inside of it will still ruin the lining and a moist cough drop will still sent it to the back of the closet.

OK.  So what has that got to do with anything?  We are talking about saving money. Here is my weakness.  I love to travel.  It is what I save my money for and when I am very careful I spend less traveling than living at home (almost, well sort of.)  I find really good deals on flights, accomodations and food.  So far so good but right now I am packing for a wonderful trip with my mom.  We will spend a week in Istanbul, I’ll be using airmiles Best Western cards for accomodations. Great.  We will then be doing a one week cruise from Istanbul to Athens that included free airfare and the whole thing came out cheaper than airfare (I will be so unimpressed if I find out we are really galley help on a Greek fishing boat). Double great.  I will get a chance to introduce my mom to one of the most important people in my life and many other friends, triple great, and they have all seen all of my clothes before. Oh. Ha!  I don’t care.  I’m sure they don’t remember what I wore, even though they are the same outfits I wore in several of the photos I took on my last few trips.  Yup, that one sparkly camisole, certainly made the rounds (in a nice girl way of course).  Yes I have worn these boots there three times. This coat is starting to look like Indiana Jones’ after the fight scenes.  I’m sure they won’t notice.  People in large European cities aren’t too aware of fashion right?  I don’t care about that sort of thing right?  Why is my suitcase inching away from my choices?  Why is my suitcase looking like it was on the Titanic?

All right this is petty but part of my spending before a trip involved a military campaign of getting the hair cut and coloured, feet done, makeup bought fresh, a few new tops, maybe a dress (or two if it was summer) and a bathing suit.  The bathing suit is always problematic because when I buy them I see myself rising from the waves like a spandex clad Venus on a half shell in glistening splendor.  When the photos get downloaded  I see a German opera singer squished into a salami wrapper.  There is no going back and pretending once the photos see the light of day (which they rarely do).  This year, at this time of reckoning it is time to stop avoiding the closet. As Dorothy learned in Oz, everything I really need is right in my own (closet) backyard.  Part of the fun of a trip is buying new things in the hope of being a brand new me, but until I am completely at ease with the me that didn’t suddenly lose 20 lbs. before the trip, then I’m not decluttering the most cluttered room I have, my own closet of anxieties.  Yes marketing and media have had a hand in that but intentional living gives me the freedom to wear brown if “the” trend is lilac.  I have to face my own ego and fantasy cravings and find satisfaction by returning to the closet. Now where is that neon plaid bathing suit? (Don’t visualize.)

Beware the Evil Eye

For anyone who knows me they know that my favourite place away from home is Turkey.  One of the most iconic sights in Turkey is the nazar, the ward against the evil eye.  These are put throughout the houses, worn as jewelry, cemented into the streets and even pinned to baby’s diapers.  There is a whole set of cultural rules around compliments and warding against the evil eye.  When I was first there I was puzzled by the mothers’ reactions when I would admire their babies or tell them that their child was lovely. They would look at me with horror and their eyes made it clear that I was completely out of line. Here in Canada saying nice things to a woman about her children is often the way to open conversation and to show your friendliness and good intent.  In Turkey it slammed doors shut.  What I learned is that people learned to try and guard against envy and it was said that if someone complimented  something you have that they possibly coveted it and wished harm on the owner.  Giving a compliment has to quickly be followed with “Mashallah” meaning “God protect”.  Even then the fear is that you might be dishonest in your declaration. The idea is to keep from inspiring envy so that people would not wish to take your possessions or wish harm on you. The eye is to bounce back any evil intent. Supposely if the eye shatters it has done its job.

You might wonder what this has to do with a frugal lifestyle but I think it outlines a flaw in our culture’s thinking.  We are taught to admire and flaunt our cars, clothes, houses, careers and children.  Provoking envy is seen as a way of establishing where you are on the societal ladder. How many of us cringe at the Christmas letter that is really a list of why there family is better and more successful than yours.  It creates a divide between friends, family, and neighbours. It creates an artificial urgency to acquire “stuff” of greater and greater expense in order to establish personal worth.  There are whole television networks dedicated to ridiculing outmoded decor and wardrobes. Functional and servicable are not good enough.  We create neuroses, dispair, insecurities, chronic debt, alienation, anger, and covetousness because we glory in the envy of others.

In terms of seeking to live a humble and manageable life you are not only bringing peace to your own life but you take the pressure off of others.  In celebrating simplicity a handspun and handknit scarf takes on a place of honour in our wardrobe. The designer? Someone who loves you.  Is it in the latest colour palette of the season? It perfectly sets off your smile.   Guarding against envy may be seen as a way of avoiding evil intent that may be created in the hearts of others, but it is also a gift to those around us to take off the pressure of the demands of society.

Instead of a fancy dinner in a swanky new restaurant have a simple potluck that allows everyone to shine for the important things.  It is a switch from being ashamed of having a boxy out of date car to knowing that you are safe from poisoning your relationship with your neighbours due to envy.  I now carry a nazar on my purse. I don’t think it will ward off curses but it will remind me to avoid provoking envy by the choices I make and the way I live my life. My champagne coloured Dodge caravan will never be an item of admiration and for that I am truly thankful.

Living a simple and contented life that acknowledges that it has enough can be life changing beyond your own home. Enjoy.

Sept.21rst Christmas Tacos

I’ll admit it.  I tend to overthink things.  When I decide on something I want to get started now and work until it is finished.  “Hhm. To get in shape I need to be active for at least an hour a day.  That is 7 hours a week, 28 hours in a month, so if I work out for 12 days in a row I’ll be good for the year.”  OK I exaggerate a bit but not much.  I have learned to beware the zeal with which I approach new projects in favour of creating plans that have a bit more staying power.

With trying to do the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year Of Less blog I quickly spread out from saving money to making sure I hand made everything.  That came with a huge amount of left overs, as there are only two of us, many hours searching for recipes that used what I had,  and massive amounts of pots and pans to wash.   I quickly learned that not every night could be new culinary creations.  One night as I looked over a table brimming with hand pickled veggies, crockpot chicken, and a specialty salad with fresh made dressing I asked Josh what his favourite part was.  Without looking up he said, “The rice.”  The rice.  The stuff I measured out into a steamer. The plain white rice.  The counter was littered with every measuring cup and spoon, pots, bowls, knives and cutting boards I owned.  I’d be washing up an hour at least and he liked the rice. I got the message.

To be honest I should have got the message many years ago, almost eight years ago to be exact.  It was six days before Christmas that the three of us were moving into our new house.  There was little time to put up a tree, unload and get ready for the holidays.  In the middle of appliances that were not working and a phone line that didn’t get hooked up I realized it was Christmas eve and there was no way I was going to be able to put on a proper traditional Christmas dinner.  I reached into one of the bins and came up with a package of taco fixings.  I decided to chop up a red and green pepper and presented them to our son.  “Here we go sweetie. Christmas tacos!”  He was six and munched happily as I felt like a complete con artist.  I promised myself that the next year would make up for it.

The next year I did thing up in style with an actual table cloth, candles, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, corn and of course the turkey.  We sat down at the table and my son looked at everything and hung his head.  “Josh, what’s wrong?”.  He looked up at me, his eyes filling, “Mom, where are the Christmas Tacos?  I’ve been looking forward to them all day,  It’s just not Christmas without them.”  I quickly promised we’d have some the next day and he perked up and we had a good dinner.  I had no idea that he’s remembered that and that making a memory didn’t need all the crazy making activity. Since then it has become one of our traditions.   The times that I’m the most stressed are a direct reflection on my expectations.  It is not just the work that causes the stress but the expectation I have of what I must create in order to for me to call it a success. Sometimes I am a royal pain in my own backside.

Sometimes simple is enough.  Sometimes simple is just better.  This thanksgiving I will be alone for the first time.  I thought about trying to create a big traditional dinner. Maybe I’ll just invite some people over for Thanksgiving tacos. Red and orange peppers make it perfect for Thanksgiving right?

May you all be richly blessed this thanksgiving and dwell on all that makes you truly grateful.