Archive for January, 2011

Junk Won’t Make You Happy

I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a bit clutter-a-phobic. Ever since I was child I kept my room clean and my toys straight and orderly. I never liked to have a lot of items on my desk or dresser and I always knew exactly where to find things in my room. Before I studied for a test I always cleaned and straightened and if I’m really stressed I take the whole house apartment and reorganize everything. Somehow I feel if my things are in order my life will be in better order too.

As the years progress I consider myself more of a minimalist, but not in an extreme way. I certainly own more than 100 items and I definitely buy things just because I think they are pretty or cute. My closet and dresser drawers are full, but I wear every article of clothing inside of them and if I don’t I quickly ship them off to those in need.

Over the years I’ve simply decided that junk won’t make me happy. In fact, owning too much of it makes me feel nervous and stressed. Owning another tchotchke won’t fill a void in my life. Buying another decoration won’t make me feel more at peace with the world. It won’t stroke my ego or make me feel more important. It won’t impress anyone or make me feel cool.

In fact, for me, it works just the opposite. The less stuff I own the better I feel. I keep more money in the bank, I have more space to stretch out and overall I feel free. I waste less time acquiring and maintaining new things and feel less frustration because I have fewer things that will tarnish, break or need repair. I also think it’s better for my health, as I have less stuff to make me neurotic and less dust to wipe away.

I know so many couples that fight about money and stuff. One spouse disapproves of the way the other spent money. Then they fight because that stuff is constantly getting in their way. You can’t fight about stuff if you don’t buy any and you can’t fight about cleaning if there is nothing in the way.

When my husband and I sit together at the kitchen table or in the living room or even upstairs there isn’t any clutter between the two of us. This keeps us focused on one another and less distracted by our surroundings. I think it allows us to be physically and emotionally closer.

Buying less stuff makes me feel better about my impact on the environment simply because I have less trash to throw away. I’m sure in one way or another it also means I have a smaller carbon footprint on the world as consuming less means saving more energy and consuming fewer resources.

The truth is that stuff simply won’t fill the void in your life. In fact, I would argue that it only makes the void grow deeper and stronger as you put more and more things between you and the people you love.

As time goes by I hope to keep to a clutter-free, junk-free lifestyle. In fact, as the years go by I’m getting better and better at preventing junk from entering my home and when it does sneak in I feel much less guilty about getting rid of it.

January 29, 2011 at 5:00 PM 6 comments

Creating Space

In an effort to be at least a little proactive I began clearing out the spaces around the windows in our home that will soon be replaced. I started by moving the two sets of bookshelves in our sun room. I took all of the books off the shelves and separated them into piles I labeled ‘keep’, ‘donate’, ‘sell’ and ‘beach.’ The first three categories are obvious, the fourth one includes any interesting novels or short stories our renters might like to take to the beach.

As I was carrying the books out of one room and into another I couldn’t help but notice how many of them I still have not read. Last year I piled up a stack of books and vowed to read each one. In reality I think I only made it through two of them.

I condensed the number of books significantly and moved from two bookcases down to one. If I can figure out a place to store my old photo albums I’ll even have some free space on it. (By the way any ideas on that front?) I decided to repurpose the second bookcase as a pantry of sorts. I took it downstairs and loaded it with cans of food and cereal boxes that were previously located in inconvenient locations around our basement.

As I was moving things around I realized how much space I freed up in our sun room. If I take the table out of there I may actually have enough room to put down my yoga mat and exercise. Heck, now that I’ve found the room for it, maybe I’ll finally buy myself a treadmill.

January 28, 2011 at 4:58 AM Leave a comment

Life is Too Short for All That Negativity

I’m trying to think positively. I have an amazing life, so why is it that I sometimes find myself being so negative. I’m trying to get back into the habit of counting my blessings each night and thanking God for all that I’ve been given.

I want to fill my life with more positive thoughts and more positive people. If you’re a downer, I just don’t have space for you right now. We’ll have to pick up on our relationship later.

My husband and my father are both extremely lighthearted, easy going people who definitely smile more often than they frown. I wish their happiness would rub off a little more on me.

I think it’s just in their blood. They both wake up happy. My dad says you have to look at what you have rather than what you don’t. He greets the day with a smile, because he considers the alternative; not waking up at all.

Every so often I have to remind myself of such things. I have to stop waiting for the next thing to happen and relish in what’s happening right now. After all, nothing in life is guaranteed, so you might as well make the most of what you’ve been given. I’ve been given A LOT in life so I really shouldn’t have any excuses.

January 27, 2011 at 4:40 AM 3 comments

A Little Saturday Night Inspiration

As I was clearing out my laptop I came across a list of quotes that I printed out and taped to the wall of my cube. I took them down a long time ago when I moved from one little cubicle to another, but it made me smile to see them again.

  • Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship — (Buddha)
  • Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier — (Mother Theresa)
  • You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get — (Michael Phelps)
  • He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life — (Muhammad Ali)
  • If we had no winter the spring would not be so pleasant, if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome – (Anne Bradstreet)
  • Don’t aim for success if you want it, just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally — (David Frost)
  • Indulge your imagination in every possible flight — (Jane Austin)
  • Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there — (John Wood)
  • Don’t get too comfortable with who you are at any given time — you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be — (Jon Bon Jovi)
  • When real people fall down in life, they get right back up and keep walking — (Sarah Jessica Parker)

January 23, 2011 at 4:00 AM 1 comment

Pizza Night Gets a Face Lift

Friday night has become pizza night at our house. It’s the end of the week, we’re tired, run down and not in the mood to cook. We want something that is quick to prepare and tasty to eat. That’s where pizza comes in. It is the perfect go-to on a Friday night.

We used to purchase a pie from our local Papa John’s. In the winter time we’d bundle ourselves up and drive over to the store, because delivery always took forever to arrive, but I wasn’t particularly happy with the experience. I always seemed to wait an extra twenty minutes for my pizza and I could never manage to order without spending at least $25 to $30.

I just couldn’t resist all of the other items on their menu. I’d come home with a pie, a side of chicken wings and cheese sticks. I think it was the daily deals that lured me to spend more than I intended and although the pizza lasted for more than one meal, it always felt like a big waste of money.

So one night I decided to stop wasting time and money and convinced my husband that we should make our own pizza. We pulled out the bread machine and flour and made our own dough, but the consistency wasn’t quite right and the end result was less than spectacular.

I wasn’t giving up just yet. I bought pizza dough in the can, you know the kind located next to the crescent rolls and cinnamon buns, but we weren’t particularly fond of that technique either.

The next time I went to the store I bought a prepared, cheese pizza from the refrigerated section near the deli. That Friday as I was cleaning out the fridge I found a bunch of vegetables just about past their prime. I decided to slice them up and saute them. I also added a little leftover ground beef and concocted the tastiest hamburger, veggie pizza.

My husband and I had so much success with that pizza that we decided to buy another prepared, cheese pizza the next time we went to the store. When the next Friday night rolled around we searched in the fridge and found onions, green peppers and garlic. We sauteed them with olive oil and Italian seasoning and topped our pie. Now we use pizza night as a way to experiment. Tonight we’re cooking up bacon, onion and pineapple.

I stopped buying pizzas from our local grocery store and started purchasing them from Costco’s. I store them in our downstairs chest freezer and pull one out on Friday nights for dinner. I think each pizza costs $9.99, but it’s fully topped with sauce and delicious cheese. All we have to do is dig in the refrigerator and figure out what to top it with.

We each eat a slice or two and then save the rest for a quick weekend lunch or store it in the freezer for another day’s meal. It’s a great way to stay in, cook together, eat something tasty and save money.

January 22, 2011 at 12:40 AM 6 comments

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January 19, 2011 at 1:53 PM 3 comments

Contrary to Popular Belief I Am Not An Extreme Couponer

Thanks to J.D. of Get Rich Slowly I received a HUGE number of hits on Tuesday’s post titled I Am Not Stealing. In that post I mentioned that I do not consider myself to be an extreme couponer despite the fact that I can walk into a store with a wad of coupons and walk out with two or three bags worth of free items.

A few commenters said they disagreed with my classification of extreme couponers, so without further ado here are the reasons I don’t think I fit the category.

I watched the premiere episode of Extreme Couponing and in my humble opinion the individuals they interviewed were obsessed with clipping coupons and searching for sales. One woman confessed to canceling time with family and friends so that she could drive to nearby sales and another asked her child and pregnant friend to go dumpster diving in search of coupons. I don’t do anything like that.

At most I receive coupons from two newspapers. I buy one copy of the Sunday edition of the Washington Post and every so often my mother-in-law gives me her copy. I clip coupons on Sunday mornings while I eat cereal and watch Aarti Party or Cooking for Real on the Food Network. I also follow a number of blogs that list drugstore deals where I learn about additional coupons I can print from home.

I’ve never paid attention to the exact amount of time that I spend clipping coupons, looking through the circular and searching online for deals, but I’d estimate it’s less than thirty to forty minutes. I primarily shop for bargains at CVS and Rite Aid. There are two CVS stores and a Rite Aid within a mile of where I live. I do all of my bargain shopping on Sunday mornings, which is also the day I typically shop for groceries.

Because all of the stores are located so close to where I live and so close to one another I do not spend a significant amount of time driving from store to store. I circle the items I want on the circular, arrange my coupons by store and head out the door.

I try my best to shop for things that my family will use. My parents and grandmother are on limited incomes and I like picking up additional items so they won’t have to pay for them. I think it’s easier to give them something when I can tell them I got it for free. They are very proud individuals and somehow it’s easier to take something from me when I tell them I didn’t have to pay much for it.

I won’t allow myself to buy more than a certain number of free items at a time. I won’t, for example, purchase twenty tubes of toothpaste or fifty bottles of shampoo. I will buy only one or two of these items when they are free or practically free. If I already have a number of those items at home I simply won’t buy more. There is no sense in stocking the shelves of our home with a bunch of products we’ll never use. I am a minimalist and a clutter-free-fanatic at heart so I keep my bargain shopping to a minimum.

If I have a small stockpile of items left by the end of the year I’ll create gift baskets and give them away to friends, families, strangers and charities. It’s a great way to give back to those in need.

Since I started bargain shopping I have paid pennies on the dollar for just about every type of personal product available. I can’t remember the last time I paid full price or even close to full price for toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, dishwashing liquid, detergent, etc.

If you have drugstores in your area it’s not difficult to get items for free. There are a ton of blogs devoted to helping you shop, locate coupons and get great deals. I let those bloggers do all of the work for me. I match my coupons to their sale lists and buy stuff for next to nothing. I don’t shop for deals every week and if I’m not in the mood to go shopping I don’t.

The trick is not to become obsessed with bargain shopping and not to spend hours of your life trying to get great deals. There are many ways to spend your hours and days and I for one don’t want to waste time loading my shelves with products that will take me fifty years to use.

January 19, 2011 at 1:45 AM 5 comments

To Live the Life You Really Want You Have to Think Long Term

Sometimes, in order to get the most out of your money, you have to keep your hands off of it. Luckily, saving money comes easily to me. Quite honestly, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. While my brother bought the first thing that came to mind, I would save up all of my allowance money until I could afford something I really loved. As a result, he ended up with a whole lot more toys than I did, but I’m not sure he treasured his toys as much as I treasured mine.

In my adult life, my view of money has served me well. My primary house is over fifty years old and could use a significant amount of remodeling. From the moment I bought that place I’ve considered replacing the windows and remodeling the bathrooms.

My husband and I save money each month and every time we build up a significant reserve I consider pulling the plug and calling in contractors. Yet, year after year I fail to make the call and as the year closes we find ourselves with that same list of repairs.

The fact is that although these things are important to us, they aren’t the most important things. Our long term plans often outweigh the short term ones and in this case we eventually we used the money we saved to buy our beach home. At the end of the day, delaying immediate gratification enabled us to save for something much more valuable.

Time and time again I watch people make choices with their money that I don’t understand. They say they want to travel the world, but then they buy a brand new, luxury car. They say they want to own a vacation home, but then they buy the most expensive primary home they can afford.

If you spend all of your money on one thing than you won’t be able to afford the other. Unless you have infinite amounts of cash at your fingertips you have to make choices on what you want to buy.

You may think you’ve found your dream home, the perfect new car or some new flashy toy, but before you write a check or pull out your wallet think long and hard about not the only decision you’re making now, but also the future decisions that will be impacted by your actions.

Over and over again I find that I can make do with things that I don’t particularly love. I can accept that my windows might let the stink bugs in or that my bathrooms aren’t up-to-date. I can live with IKEA furniture that has been clawed by my cat. I can live without designer clothes and drive ten year old, used cars, because those choices allow me to save my money for bigger and better things.

It’s really quite simple. If you want to move to a bigger house, (and that’s important to you), then don’t buy a brand new car. If you want to travel the world then don’t buy a wardrobe full of designer clothes. To live the life you really want you have to learn to think long term. If you continue to think only in the moment it will take you forever to achieve your true life’s goals.

January 17, 2011 at 6:25 PM 3 comments

Parting with More Stuff

I used to struggle with getting rid of my possessions, but these days I find it easier and easier to give away my stuff. I still have a hard time with certain books and a few articles of clothing, but most everything else could disappear without bothering me.

This week I plan to post some unwanted items on eBay. I won’t sell anything that won’t yield at least $15 in profit. Anything smaller than that is usually not worth the trouble. You never know how long it will take for a buyer to pay you and I don’t like making multiple trips to the post office or UPS.

By the way I ship everything via UPS, because the post office has lost my packages on more than one occasion. I typically list all of my items on one day and set the auction’s end date around the same time. If all of my buyers pay within a similar time frame I can wrap up all of my items and ship them on the same day.

I figure I can list between ten and twelve items, but I’d be surprised if they all sell. If they don’t I probably won’t relist them or try craigslist. I’ll probably just box them up and carry them off to goodwill.

The more items I get rid of the more I want to release from my possession. Now instead of feeling pained when I get rid of items I feel free. By next week I hope to further lighten my load.

January 17, 2011 at 4:15 AM 4 comments

A Follow Up on the Coupon Troubles

So I went back to the store I mentioned in Tuesday’s post in order to pick up a prescription. While I was waiting for it to be filled I wandered the isles. As I was poking around I noticed that the store clerk from my recent checkout was stocking the shelf right beside me.

I walked right over to her and told her that I was sorry for any confusion my coupons might have caused earlier in the week. I really don’t like confrontation, so I smiled and told her that I brought a copy of the store’s policy that she could take a look at.

I didn’t intend to show it to her, (I printed it out so I could keep a copy with me in case future issues arose), but since she was standing right there and I felt really awful about the last incident I figured I’d just talk to her about it.

To my surprise she looked over the policy and told me that she was not familiar with the buy-one-get-one free rules stated in it. She also told me that the store manager asked all cashiers to a team meeting so that they could discuss the store policies and rules around coupon use.

During Tuesday’s incident the manager mentioned the need to review the store’s policies. Apparently that same manager scheduled a meeting for all employees an hour after my transaction. The cashier, (I found out her name is Maria), believes that meeting was a direct reaction to my experience at the register.

She said management wants to make certain that all employees know what to do when a customer presents coupons as a form of payment.

I’m taking that as a positive sign.

January 15, 2011 at 4:50 AM 5 comments

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