Sunday, July 11, 2010

A simple living update

I started this blog about a year ago because my husband, Ryan, and I were starting to make some major life changes and I wanted to document them. In October, we sold our house in Groton, Massachusetts, and half our stuff, then packed up the rest and moved into a newly renovated 1,000-square-foot loft in an old mill city, Lowell.

Now, 10 months later, I'm doing a little check in. For starters, we are so happy about the choices we've made. Leaving homeownership and Groton behind was absolutely the right thing to do.

As I write this, I'm sitting in my apartment and looking out over the Merrimack River.

I see trees and rocks and men wading out into the water with fishing rods. I hear the river as it moves at a lazy pace. I love the sound of moving water.

We gave up a beautiful little New England town with rivers and meadows, but got this gorgeous river view and walk in exchange. We exchanged beauty for beauty. By moving to Lowell, we also got easy walking access to the restaurants and venues downtown which includes sense of community that we didn't feel in the suburbs.

I frequently walk into Lowell and hang at a local coffee shop or stop at my favorite wine store or grab a glass of sangria at the Italian cafe. With these trips comes great conversations with my neighbors and with the store owners - there's a real sense of community here. Not to mention, when we need to go to the "big" city, we can get there in just over 40 minutes.

One of the nicest things about our new lifestyle is that we have more time for each other and to do the things we love.

We haven't added the time savings up, but owning a house meant that every weekend in the summer there was something that we needed to do. Ryan was regularly mowing an acre of land and driving to the dump to unload the grass. In the winter, he was shoveling or snow-blowing a long driveway over and over. We had a house that was two times the size of our living space which meant more to make dirty and more to clean. Now, we can knock out in a deep cleaning of our new places in just a few hours.

Then there's the money savings...

I'll admit, we haven't saved as much as we had planned to. That was part of the motivation for moving was to do a better job saving. The temptation when you have more disposable income is to spend it. But we are on track now. Everything is in place to have a great year of saving - and that includes a mindset about money that we are working on.

If you look at our fixed expenses, they've come way down. Our rent is about $800 less than our mortgage + taxes were. Our electric bill is very modest. We don't have to pay for any upgrades or repairs to our place. It's painful to think how much we spent on our house, including a new furnace our last winter there (ouch!).

The area of food is one we are looking at now. We spend SO MUCH on food. And I don't just mean eating out. We try to be careful with that (could be more, I'm sure). It's also the cost of the way we are eating these days - mostly fruits and veggies - and we try to go organic as much as possible. We've got more work to do in that area, but we are on it!

We do spend money on travel. We like to take trips. We been staying super local since our trip to France last summer. We just went away for July 4th and have a trip to coming up next weekend. We are very conservative and always look for good deals. We also eat cheaper meals and do whatever we can to save while still having a great time. This area is a priority for us, but strive to do it responsibly.

We are driving a lot less these days too, which means more savings of money and time. I did work a 5-minute walk up the road until I was laid off in June. From October to June, I only drove on the weekends. Fortunately, I immediately got a new job and it's only a 12 minute drive away, so that still keeps driving to a minimum. We do pay more than two times as much for car insurance. Ouch!

We still have too much stuff.

For all we got rid of, we still have too much. I'm reading a book on living simply that I will blog on soon. It got me motivated to get rid of more stuff and even be more focused on NOT bringing in more stuff. I did a sweep yesterday and found several boxes worth of stuff that we do not use and do not need. It's all going to the Lowell Wish Project. The items are in great shape, we just don't need them and they are taking up space. They include pairs of shoes, a down comforter, a volleyball, an extra place setting of our dishes, and a huge bag of clothes.

The fact that we are getting rid of a bunch of perfectly good stuff challenges us to think hard about what we bring into the house going forward (another blog post, I suspect!).

Living simply is a great challenge and one that feels very worthwhile. 

I find that as I clear away the clutter, what I have left is what's most important. Life is short, I don't want to waste the time I have on things that don't really matter to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dude, where's my car?

Seriously, dude. Where is my car? I don't know because I haven't driven it for like a week.

In my new more simple life (that I haven't written about since October 19) I don't drive much at all. I can easily go five or six days without driving a car. That is probably hard for most people to imagine (unless you live in a city with public transport). For the past 14 years of my life I've driven at least 35 minutes each way to get to my place of work. Now, I live a whopping five minute walk from work.

Let me first say that it is most excellent to have a five minute walking commute. I leave my house at 8:55 and I'm at work at 9:00. Actually most days I've been leaving closer to 8:30 and I'm at work early. That is certainly a new thing. I have extra time in the morning. I can either get up at 7 and get to work out, have a leisurely breakfast, then get ready, or, if I have a late night, I can sleep until 8 with plenty of time to get out the door.

And then there's that popular commodity called gasoline. No joke, I think that I filled my tank for the first time in a month this past weekend. One tank of gas per month. Really, I think it's going to be more like a half a tank per month or maybe even a fourth of a tank. We shall see. That's some serious savings. I'm estimating that over the next year, I will save about $2000 from NOT buying gas. Not to mention the great feeling of being green!

That's all the good stuff. Which is really very good.

But living so close to work and driving once every six days can create a few dilemmas. First, I feel like my universe is very, very, very small. I walk two blocks to work in the morning, work for 9-10 hours in a refurbished mill and then walk two blocks to my home, also a refurbished mill. I'm definitely seeing that I'm going to need for us to take a weekend away in Vermont, Maine, Boston or NYC every once in a while just to break the monotony up a bit.

The other thing is there are times that I have no idea where my car is. NO IDEA. There are options. It's either behind the building, in front, on a side street (two to choose from) or in what we refer to as the "wild west", an area near our mill that actually does resemble an old gutted town from the "wild west."

Right now my Matrix is out back. I saw it this morning when I left for work and I was like, “Oh, yeh, I have a car.” Out back is the best spot, because I see it when I leave or when I take the dog to pee. But when it's in the other areas, it's really easy to forget its whereabouts and have to wander around to find it. Not good when you are running late, as I sometimes am.

One last challenge is there have been a number of break-ins since people starting moving into this building. Someone figured out and told their friends that there were GPS systems to be had and for a while there, those window-busters had a great time. It's quieted down in recent days.

Now, I would have had no idea if my car had gotten broken into, because I didn't know where the heck it was. : )

Lesson of simple living: Be prepared to ask "Dude, where's my car?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why does recycling make me feel so guilty?

You really have to wonder about yourself when you try harder than ever to do the right thing, and you still feel guilty. And I'm not even Catholic.

Now that I'm becoming a more "green" person, I find that I feel really guilty when I can't (or don't recycle). This was more true than ever when we were in the throws of getting everything out of our house before the move. All that STUFF! There was so much. We did our best to recycle by going to the recycling station often and making multiple runs to Goodwill, instead of just throwing things away. We probably did a really, really good job, but you know what? It wasn't good enough. For me, that is.

This is the danger in committing to "do the right thing." You feel just awful when you don't do it. I've always had a hard time compromising. I think it's my upbringing. My parents taught me that there's no such thing as a white lie (lying is lying), cheating on your taxes is unacceptable, copyright laws were made to be obeyed, and there is never an excuse not to do the right thing when you knew what it was.

Now I've added recycling to the list. I am hyper-aware of how bad it is to not recycle and therefore feel compelled to do it. In the last days and hours of our move, I will confess, I broke the rules. We got to the point where we'd recycled, sold and given away everything we could and we still had more stuff. The way the schedule worked out - between getting the truck loaded, meeting the movers and getting everything in the new place, I got stuck with making the last run to the glorious Groton town dump.

Ryan had planned to do because he knew that most of what was in the car would have to be thrown away - not recycled. Let's just say as much as he is committed to right-doing, his conscience is not near as sensitive as mine. He wasn't going to think twice about throwing all that stuff away. But for me, it was painful. I really felt like I was doing something irresponsible.

When we got to the apartment, we still had lots of stuff to get rid of, including all the boxes we used to move. Our building in Lowell is not set up yet for recycling, but there is a huge bin just outside the building that we are meant to throw trash in for now. It has a big recycling logo on and it's actually green (the color) but I don't trust it. Do they really seperate all our junk and send it to the right place? I try not to think about it.

This weekend Ryan made a run to the Groton to drop off some of our recycling (we have a dump sticker through next June), but that's not always going to work. I'm counting our our management company to get recycling going soon.

As soon as they do, it's going to take a load off of my chest. I can start really recycling again. I can let go of the guilt. But wait, will they actually do what they say they will with our recycling? If heard that there's a lot of controversy around this. Some towns have people seperate it all just to throw it all back together again. What?!

I can't go there. It's out of my hands at that point, right?

My conclusion is that some people feel guilty even when they are doing their best to do the right thing. I named my blog "shooting" for simple because I knew that I would need to remind myself that shooting for something means that you don't always hit it. And that's okay. Really? Yes, really (the battle continues).

I have been trying my husband's mindset a little more lately. Trying to be a little more relaxed about the whole thing. You can't get it right every time. No one is perfect, right? But it's the desire for perfection that keeps us on our toes - striving to do the right thing when we know what it is.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Simplifying can be complicated

As much as the goal with this whole downsizing thing was to make our lives more simple, it hasn't happened yet. The business of closing on the house and moving (as I wrote in my last post) was highly complicated and stressful. But I have moved on (in case you were wondering). Really, I have. : )

Now the focus is getting our new place in order. We are in a much smaller space now. We went from three bedrooms, a family room and an additional office to two bedrooms. Ryan and I are, of course, sharing the master bedroom (even after the move we still like each other) and we are sharing the other room as well. We are NOT calling it an office. There are two names we are using to describe this room. One is "the creativity room", CR for short and the other, which I think might be my favorite, is "the playroom."

How many couples do you know who don't have children but still have a playroom. Exactly! THAT is the very reason I like the name the playroom. Why is it when we grow up we don't have playrooms any more? We exchange a playroom for an office. No fun! The idea is this room is a place for inspiration, fun, and creativity.

In order to make this special space all that it needs to be (we have high expectations) we made the drive to Ikea on Saturday. We had never been. What an experience. I think we spent just under six hours there. We even had an idea of what we were looking for before we went.

We started with an incredibly hearty and inexpensive meal of meatballs, mashed potatoes, chicken, mac and cheese, apple cake and sparkling cider (see photo that does not include the chocolate bar). We needed our strength. Upon filling our bellies beyond their capacities, we began our journey through the countless displays in the vast showroom. Hours later, when we were finally done wandering through, debating (the good kind) which table was the perfect one for our creativity/play room, trying every chair in the joint, scrutinizing what piece of furniture we wanted to put the TV on and on and on, we headed down to the warehouse to find the pieces we chose.

As we located the flat boxes of items we would later assemble, we found that our eyes were a little bigger than the back of our Toyota Matrix. It became clear that two trips would be required (Ryan is heading back tomorrow). Getting our purchases in the car and the back tied down was its own ordeal. Thank goodness for the $1 frozen yogurt treat we helped ourselves to at the end as a reward for all our hard work. Food is a such a great reward.

Upon our arrival in Lowell we made numerous trips from the car to the elevator and down the very long hallway that leads to our apartment. It was reminiscent our of 3:00 a.m. load-in the week before when we made about 100 trips, but this time we had about 90% less stuff. Thank goodness.

We spent all of today assembling shelves and chairs. The place is starting to come together but we have a ways to go before it's a peaceful place to live. Boxes still line the walls and my clothes are in bins (no room for dressers here - working on an alternative solution). But it is starting to show great promise. It's going to be an amazing space to live and play in when we are done.

Little by little. That's what I keep telling myself. It is coming together, and when it does it will be the perfect home base for doing more to achieve the simple life that we are shooting for.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Selling your house + moving = Total exhaustion

I don't have internet access at home right now so I'm not able to blog as much as I would like to about all that has transpired over the past week. Right now I'm sitting in the dark at my work office (which is a five-minute walk from my house). I came back here after to dinner because I had to get online to complete a transaction. I figured that I was here, so I really should write a quick blog post. So here goes!

This post is not going to be a masterpiece. I will be lucky if I make complete sentences (please pardon my errors). That is really what this blog is about. I am completely and utterly exhausted. The events of the past four days have left me in this state. And the glass of wine I had with dinner isn't helping. I have no doubt that I will recover, but there is a good chance it's not going to be this week.

It sounds like I'm complaining. I might be. I don't mean to be, but the reality of the last few days is that closing on a house can be a very stressful situation as can moving. I really had no idea. And it's the culmination of weeks, months even, of stress leading up to selling the house. Just because you come to an agreement on price, doesen't mean that things will be smooth sailing. You really don't know if the sale is going to go through until a week before close. Crazy!

On Friday, I was waiting to hear from my lawyer about the amount that I needed to bring to closing. Yes, unfortunately we had to pay to sell our house. When I did get the number, I will be honest here, I freaked. We didn't have it. I did not anticipate that I would have to have so much at closing. I'd run the numbers and come up with a very different amount. And even what I did have was not available. The transfer of funds I made from my IRA to my checking had not come through.

Thank goodness for dear old mom and dad. They really came through for me.

In a panic, I called them to see if there was any way they could transfer a large sum of money to my bank account to cover me for the bank check I need until my money came through. The could and they would. Even my sister pitched in. Thank goodness.

But there were other complications in the process - like when it seemed for a while that even with the fams money we wouldn't have enought at closing. All this while people were coming to pick up our washer and dryer and I'm thinking we if we can't close, we won't have any way to wash our clothes.

Other activities of the day involved paying off water and electric bills, calling and canceling other accounts, arguing with lawyers, going and picking up the Uhaul and, oh yes, packing. I'd left most all of the packing to Friday and then this closing thing took over my body and soul.

Story short (because I'm about to fall asleep here at my desk) is that the last few days were some of the most stressful and laborious (box after box to the 4th floor of our new building) that I've ever experienced. And the level of tiredness I feel is like nothing else I've known (because I've never had a baby), but it is now OVER and we are settling in to our new place. Ahhhhhh.

Here's the good news. We are thrilled to be out of the house and done with the whole process. And the best part of it all is really the view from our apartment. The water is beautiful. It's so calming. We left one beautiful place for another.

Now we have half the stuff (maybe even less than half) that we used to. We don't have a mortgage hanging over our heads and we have more free time to do the things that we love and are passionate about. Life is very good.

The move is just the beginning of this journey. We are excited about what the next chapter of our lives will bring.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflections on an epic yard sale

The good news for us is that PEOPLE LIKE OUR STUFF. Sorry for yelling, but they liked it so much that that they bought almost all of it at our yard sale yesterday. We were selling like crazy from 8-12. It was the best yard sales EVER (yelling again) because we had tons of good items that actually worked or were purchased within the past five years. You could have set up a whole house and remodeled it too with what we were were selling. And our prices were nice and low, so everything was flying.

My favorite part? The FREE section. That's right. Give the yard sale people of the world what they really want: free stuff. The free stuff helps them to feel like they are really getting a bargain and makes them more likely to buy something. They've done studies on this. I kid. This might not be true at all. In fact, it might be that giving away free stuff makes people want the stuff that's for sale for even less money. Either way, I don't care because it is really, really fun to give away free stuff. People just can't believe that you would give something away that you could charge a whole two dollars for.

Throughout the morning, I would select priced items that just weren't moving and bring them over into the free section (understand here, my end game was to get rid of everything by the end of the day). Items priced for $1 in the for sale area weren't even getting a glance from passers by, but you put them in the free section and watch out! They were all over it.

One of the best moments was when two ladies who had already talked me down to $2 for a designer jacket (because $5 was far too much), were walking back to their cars. I yelled out, "Ladies, more free stuff!" holding up the fresh load of items in my hands. Without hesitation or any thought at all, they abruptly did an about-face then made a b-line for the free section. Nice!

One of the things I found amazing was the power of a dollar (or three, for that matter). It can make all the difference between someone wanting or not wanting to buy an item. I was reminded by my husband that it's not about the price at all, it's about the thrill of the negotiation. The conversation the jacket lady had when she got home went something like this, "Man, did I get a bargain. She had it marked at $5 and I got her down to $2!"

I really meant to put up a "No Haggle Zone" sign, but the early birds descended at 8 a.m. (start time was 9) and it threw me off entirely. My husband came up at 8 as we were getting ready to set up, and told me we had customers. I certainly wasn't pleased that people were already there. I think my reaction was fueled by the fact that I was running on a week of very little sleep. Come to find out the two ladies in the garage could hear me when I said, "I should have included a 'no early birds' line in the ad." They actually helped us set up, so it worked in my favor.

While I didn't get the sign up, I did manage to put my foot down with a few hagglers. And on other occasions, as the day went on, I gave in. I told one woman who got me to come down one dollar on a $3 item to "make sure to spend that extra dollar wisely." She promised he would.

For all my sudo-complaining, it was a super fun day. The weather was phenomenal and Ryan and I had a blast answer questions, chatting away and selling our stuff. Our background music was the rough cut of my band's upcoming CD. This resulted in adding more than a dozen new people to my email list. Nice by-product.

By 2 p.m. we only had a limited number of items left. For some reason the small kitchen appliances weren't selling. Ryan's theory was that people had their own unnecessary kitchen appliances that they never use, so why buy more. I didn't think that usually stopped yard-salers from doing their thing, but maybe he was right.

We rounded up the rejects and put them all on one table (photo). We didn't sell any of these things. I finally just gave the ice cream maker away to someone who bought our grill. Seemed like a good combo.

We ended the sale by packing up the leftover items and driving them to Good Will in Worcester. This gave us the perfect excuse to eat the Chicken Ceasar Pizza at the Corner Grille.

Our summation of the day? It was an absolute success. Besides the fact that we made $1,000 (by selling thousands of dollars worth of stuff) we got to have some excellent conversations with our patrons. Many asked why we were moving and where. We got to tell our story and, like usual, people had positive responses to what we are doing. "Good for you!" and "Good luck!" Some seemed to wish they could do they same or said that they planned to.

Ryan and I compared notes on the day as we drove home from Worcester. We agreed that it feels so good to shed so much of our stuff. We are feeling great about the choices we're making and the direction we're going. We're glad that we bought the house and are grateful for the five amazing years we had in Groton and everything we learned being homeowners. Ryan says he sees the experience as a right of passage, of sorts. He got to put all the things his dad taught him into practice and realized that he is really very handy and can do just about anything that is required to fix a house up. Lucky for me.

One thing we are learning about ourselves is that we like experiences a bunch. We love to try something, learn from it and walk away with the experience of it under our belts. With that said, I don't think this next phase of our live is just about a new experience. Part of it is--living in an urban setting--but the part about simplifying life, that's something that we want to last through a lifetime of experiences.

P.S. To see some of the stuff we sold, check out the Moving from Groton blog.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Can a simple life also be a busy one?

In my day job (and sometimes night job) I am a marketer for a software company. I’m one of three people on the marketing team and most days, my job feels anything but simple. There are so many moving pieces. So many things I’m trying to keep up with.

This sounds a bit like my life outside of work as well. Case in point: A few days ago, I was telling my VP of HR about my new blog, which included mentioning the title. I quickly moved on to tell her that I had two shows (with my band) coming up that weekend and the following week I would be in the studio two weeknights working on a CD. She knows that I’m also in the process of selling my house and moving and is very aware of the work I’m doing at the company.

She started laughing. And it only took me a few seconds to figure out why. She saw the irony: I’m writing a blog about simplifying life and yet I have so much going on (including writing my blog!). My life can sound pretty complicated when I talk about everything I’m doing.

How does all this activity fit with my goal to simplify? Good question. I’m naturally a person who can do a lot at the same time. I’ve always gotten comments from others about the amount of things I take on. And I’ve typically been able to recognize when I was doing too much. Emotional breakdowns can be very telling. That's a joke (kind of).

Here’s a thought: Maybe simplicity in life doesn’t mean doing as little as possible, but instead, making sure you are choosing to do what’s most important to you.

I don’t have children and that’s a big part of why I have the time to pursue the things I do.  But even so, I find that there is always one more thing that “has” to be done.  Last night I told my husband, “I just need to write a few emails” and promised we would watch a show together. But two hours later, I was still on the computer because I’d discovered about 10 other things that I really “had” to do. Fortunately he was fast asleep on the couch so no harm done there. Phew!

Am I trying to do too much? Probably. Maybe all those super stressful dreams I’m having should be an indicator. I suppose that just because we can handle a lot doesn’t mean it’s good for us to do so, huh? We have to be careful not to unknowingly burn ourselves out in the process.

BUT (and that’s a big but) part of sucking the marrow out of life (which I want to do) is getting involved in life. Making things happen.  It feels good to make things happen, doesn’t it?  I love all of the activities I’m currently involved in (my family, my work, my band, my blog, etc.) and am looking forward to some I recently committed to (being the co-chair of a marketing committee and  helping a friend start a book club for professional women).  Will I run myself ragged trying to do all of these great things? I certainly hope not. As I write this tonight, I’m thinking that slowing down just a little might be a good idea.

I’m putting a lot on this upcoming move (let’s hope it actually happens!). I’m counting on the simplicity that apartment living brings and the fact that I will get almost eight hours back per week (wow!) with my almost non-existent commute. It will be easy for me to use that time up with everything I listed above. My challenge is to figure out how to make sure to save a little time to do one very important thing on occasion: absolutely nothing.