What Can I Do With $5

Before you read this post you have to promise not to laugh at my lack of financial prowess.  I’m a reasonably intelligent person who is more inclined towards the liberal arts than the sciences – or economics evidently.  I think I have a general grasp of how loans and interest works.  It was with extreme anxiety that I signed the seven thousand pages (rough estimate) of mortgage documents years ago.  It was just what you did – you bought a house.

Over the last many months, I have come to be at peace with my house.  It’s not my dream, but we are making it so.  I’m excited about our current home improvement projects and I’m very happy with my mortgage payment (especially considering the area we live in).

But yesterday, as I was paying bills and working on our debt payoff, I got discouraged.  Budgets are so black and white…okay, and red sometimes.  Paying off our credit and medical debt is taking forever it seems.

And then I started looking around the bank site that holds our mortgage information.  Sigh.  I’ll be in my eighties when our mortgage is paid off.  Honestly, maybe dead.  Talk about discouraging.

And then I saw this little section called “Early payoff calculator”.  Yea, right.  I’m barely making progress on our other debts.

But, what the hell.  Turns out that if I pay only $5 extra a month on our principal, I can pay off our mortgage two years earlier.  What?  Really?  Are they kidding?  I entered the numbers a million more times.  Same answer.

Now, I’m learning a lot more about mortgages and paying them off.  My head hurts.  I don’t like math.  I really don’t like math.  At all.  But, I do like getting out of debt.

So, I’ve given up my Sonic Drive-In unsweet tea with blackberry.  I started drinking it to quit drinking Diet Coke after my health scare a year or so ago.

I love my tea.

But I had no idea that $5 was that powerful.

Water is tasting pretty good right now!

The Throw Pillow

I went to Wal-Mart today with my sister.  I had a list of things I needed – things I really needed like laundry detergent.

It’s Mother’s Day (so therefore, I deserve a gift, right?)

I saw this pillow.  I was drawn to this pillow – the color and the textures.  Without thinking, I put this pillow in my cart.

And then froze.  And spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this pillow and it’s place in my life.  More time than I am comfortable with.  Here’s a few of those thoughts:

  • I want it
  • it would look great in my new colorful living room
  • I have throw pillow covers from Ikea that I loved when I bought them unpacked in a box waiting for the right spot to be used
  • it will probably end up on the floor with dog hair on it
  • it’s really pretty
  • it’s made in China and I don’t know the conditions it was manufactured in
  • it’s probably made of re-purposed fabrics
  • since it’s made in China, it’s probably a ripped-off copy of something hand-crafted that is too expensive for me to afford
  • it’s affordable (less than $16)
  • it’s probably a ripped-off copy of someone’s original idea
  • I could use that $16 to make an additional payment on a debt
  • still really like the pillow and want it
  • it’s not crafted all that well
  • sigh, deep sigh

I took the pillow out of my cart.  I also took out the $15 worth of craft paper that I just know I could make something really great out of.  My studio is still pretty much packed up and I don’t have a purpose for it right now.  It would go into the “potential use” pile  and I have plenty of that kind of stuff already.

To be honest, my sister then took me to Michael’s and I bought two items that will provide me with hours of crafting/art enjoyment using supplies that I already have (one on clearance that I’ve been watching for a while and the other using a 40% off coupon).  Less expensive than the pillow and paper.

Not a total win, but in the end I’ll have something homemade to decorate my home with rather than a mass-produced pillow that I really don’t need.  I’ll have had the fun of making something and that makes me happy.

Happier than picking up a throw pillow off of the floor and wondering why I even bought it 6 months from now.

Shopping used to be thoughtless and “fun” – until the bills came due.  Now it’s rather like hard work.

Progress!

 

 

Choices

I had a great comment on yesterday’s post.  She commented that what I was calling a simpler, more intentional life looked a lot like poverty.

Yep.  I have to agree.  It does look like poverty and I really appreciate what she said.  I feel like it’s an affirmation of a step in the right direction.

For me, the difference between poverty and an intentional life is choices.  The intentional choices that are made when we consider the big picture of our lives.  I actually have enough money saved away in my “emergency fund” to purchase a new washer right now.

And a year of so ago, I would have considered my washer situation to be an emergency.  I would have run right out and purchased that new washer because

   what kind of person in their right mind would put up with that kind of rigged contraption?

Now, I wonder what kind of person would spend every penny out of their savings account in order to have a laundry room that “looks right”.  Sure, my contraption is kind of a pain in the ass.  It would be easier to just buy a new washer if I was still trying to keep up with the Jones family (and their credit card debt).

We have sacrificed in order to have that small savings account.  For years, we didn’t have any kind of emergency fund.  And we had plenty of emergencies.  We are doing without in order to not accrue any more debt.  It’s not been an easy change of mindset.  It’s so easy to buy now and pay later.  It’s the American way.

I grew up with parents who were children in the Great Depression.  My Dad left the farm and joined the Air Force.  He jumped enthusiastically into the world of credit and the dream of a better life.  He spent a lot of time (and money) seeking all that the world could offer:  a new car every year, a bigger and better house, lots and lots of clothes…

I don’t fault  him for that.  Every one was doing it.  It just doesn’t work anymore.  Maybe it never did.  When I got my first application for a credit card (before I had even graduated and gotten a full-time job), I jumped at the opportunity.  I was proud of my perfect credit score.  Look at me!  Look at what I’ve done.

It’s literally a house of cards though.  It’s an illusion.  An illusion that’s difficult to maintain.  It’s a dream that brings no joy.

No more.

Sometimes, when I trip over the broom handle holding up my washer, I want to go buy a new one.

Most of the time, I see my rigged contraption and it brings me a sense of contentment and joy.  It’s a choice and I’m proud that I’m making a good choice – a choice that closely resembles poverty, but carries with it a wealth of benefits for our family.

 

 

When the Target is Not What You’re Aiming For

Yesterday, I took my youngest shopping at Target.  Over the last few days I’ve decluttered just about every piece of clothing the kid owns.  Target is a good place to find her some new duds.  She’s at that age where she’s too big and too old for children’s clothes, but not really old enough to be wearing “junior” sizes.  Some of the stuff is just too “grown-up” for a twelve year old (in my opinion – not judging how anyone chooses to dress their child).  Being an adult comes soon enough – I’m not going to rush it.

Anyway, they were changing out their displays and getting ready for the imminent holiday season (sarcasm intended).  I still haven’t pulled out my Halloween decorations (both of them).  Armed with my one-hour-a-week, part-time teacher’s paycheck, we started shopping.  Luckily they had just put a ton of stuff on clearance.  We were able to get some cute clothing at a not too outrageous price.

Still, I said “no” a lot more than I was happy about.  She never complained and didn’t ask for anything outrageous, but it’s just hard for me not to give her everything she wants.

One voice in my head was saying, “Remember, we are striving to be responsible consumers and not over-buying.  Less is more.  We are working to get rid of stuff.  Think about want versus need.  How much does she really need? Etc…….”

The other voice was saying, “Why shouldn’t she have that really cute pale-pink tulle skirt that only cost $20 and will probably snag the first time she wears it and where do we go that she would wear it anyway?  But, it’s so cute and I just want to buy it for her.  And that faux fur jacket that doesn’t even have sleeves so it wouldn’t keep her warm, but…..”

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation by the voices in my head.

Ultimately, the winning voice was the one that said, “Buying stuff doesn’t equal love, we are trying to get out of debt, and buying too much stuff is one of the behaviors you are trying to change.”

That’s my love/hate relationship with Target.   I shop there, but not too often.  I love a lot of their stuff and I want to buy it.  I just know that it will make my house prettier, me look better, my life easier.  Those curtains, that picture, that journal, those organizational supplies, those cleaning products that smell so good…    All my problems solved.

Lies!  Lies that marketing works so hard to convince me of and lies that I tell myself.

My house will be prettier if I keep it uncluttered, tidy and clean.  I will look better if I am less stressed and can find clean clothes to wear.  My life will be easier if I don’t have so much stuff.

I am aiming for a simpler, less hectic, and more intentional life.  That’s the target I need to keep my eye on.  That’s the goal that I’m aiming for.

And to that end, here is today’s declutter:IMAG1093Two boxes and one bag of old business documents, a stack of magazines, and an old science workbook that I never used for my first three kids so I probably won’t use it for the last one – headed to recycling tomorrow.  A wooden salad bowl set that I intended to paint.  Never got around to it – time’s up – heading to the thrift store along with an antique crockery pitcher.  I’m already looking around for tomorrow’s discards. Happy de-cluttering!

A Tiny Little World

Depression is hard…trying to keep going and not let on that you are struggling.  Doing what has to be done.  Tired all the time.  Battling the hopelessness.  Frustrated because the negative feelings aren’t fully connected to the reality that you are living in.  Knowing that things aren’t really all that bad, but mad at yourself because you are unhappy anyway.  Not living up to the expectations that you are placing upon yourself.  The little voice in your head that gets louder and louder – criticizing and commenting on all your failures.  Knowing that the folks around you (who don’t live with you) are unaware of the struggle.  Pulling into yourself bit by bit until only you only have to deal with your immediate surroundings, decisions you can’t avoid and work you have to do.  Realizing that you’ve isolated yourself from anyone who might be able to help because you don’t want them to be aware that you are weak and less than perfect.

…an unhappy tiny little world…

I’m peeking out a bit today.  This vicious little merry-go-round ride I’ve been on is not fun.  I’m blogging today and I will write again tomorrow.  I promise myself.

Life has really been going on rather normally I suppose.  Most people around me would probably be surprised to know how hard the last few weeks/months have been.  What’s been happening since I last wrote regularly?

I’ve got three part-time jobs now.  Part of it is for the money – we are really working on getting our debt paid down.

My newest job is teaching at a private school that opened in our little town.  Did I share this already?  I’m teaching art one day a week and am really enjoying it.  I was pretty sure that I would like it, but am actually surprised at how much!  It’s been fun to get to know the kids and to see how talented some of them are and how enthusiastic they all are.  The art lessons are supposed to complement the history curriculum and they are studying the Renaissance.  That’s challenging to do in one hour, one day a week.  I’ve been lightly touching on an aspect of Renaissance Art and then adapting a lesson to be both fun and fit into the time we have.  Today we did a “stained glass” project using tissue paper, laminating sheets and a laminator.

My youngest and I are fully into our homeschool year.  It’s been sooooo different having only one “student”.  We’ve actually “done” school almost every day and are hardly behind my schedule at all.  We’ve also managed several field trips (other than trips to the grocery store).  We’ve visited the Blanton Art Museum and the Austin Zoo so far.    Not bad for a self-described eclectic un-schooling family.

We’ve been working on the house doing some small maintenance and renovation projects.  Right now we are working in our hallway which is almost large enough to be a room on it’s own.  Three of the bedrooms, the classroom/studio and hall bath open into it.  It also contains a built-in desk, counter and two upper cabinets.  I’ve decluttered enough that the cabinet above the desk is almost empty so we are removing it.  It overshadows the desk and looks cramped.  We’re putting in a simple shelf instead.  Less stuff, less clutter and a more open airy feel.  All the walls are going to be painted Polar Bear white.  I’m ready for simple, uncluttered and peaceful!

Still sorting through stuff and trying to see how little we really need.  Layer by layer we are downsizing.  About a box a week is going to the thrift store and the trash can is always overflowing.  Where does it all come from?!?!

Not much is happening on the art front.  I just haven’t had the energy to complete anything.  Anything I did attempt just didn’t measure up to my expectations.  I’m cleaning an architect’s office and have been gifted a lot of flooring and upholstery samples.  I’m planning on playing with them and seeing what I can come up with.  Lots of fun colors and textures!

Time to open the blinds, throw open the windows and let the breeze blow in.  No more shutting out the world!  There is joy out there to be found, lived and enjoyed.  I’m going to give it a try…



Choosing to look for the joy

Hmmmm…been a long time away from here and it is ever so hard to start writing again.  Lots has happened and there is a small component of guilt as well.  The perfectionist in me struggles with not doing everything well…if you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all…  That’s the “old” me, or rather the me that I’m trying to outgrow.  But old habits die hard – especially if we stop paying close attention and start living on autopilot…

…which is what I’ve found myself doing a lot of lately.

I simply stopped looking for the joy.

Honestly it’s not been the summer that I dreamed about – full of fun, memory making activities and lots of restful time to prepare for the school year ahead.  It started off well enough, but somehow snowballed into one challenge after another.

But there was plenty of joy to be found.  It all depends on how I choose to look at it.

We did get our back mortgage caught up with all of it’s late charges!  Without a doubt that was a joyful thing indeed.  And we’ve been working through the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover so I even managed to set up our emergency fund.

Then…

The dryer died.  Dead.  It’s been coming on for a while.  Remember the crazy noise and the on-line repair tutorials.  Not this time.  Thank goodness for that emergency fund, right?

Then the thermostat started going out on the oven.  Guessing temperatures, anyone?  Hubby found a great deal on one at work.  A great deal!  Okay, we’ve got the emergency fund and we need an oven. Done.

Then…the BIG one.  The “what-the-hell did I do wrong to deserve this crap” break-down.  Our  central air-conditioning unit quits working.  In August.  In Central Texas.  Three service calls and estimates later, we have a price for replacement.  The general consensus is that it can’t be fixed as it’s over 10 years old and is beyond repair.  Cost:  around $7000.00.  No emergency fund for that, my friend.  We’re “camping in a few rooms of our house with some loaner portable A/C units.

Then, there’s the vacation at the beach that came with it’s own set of issues.  Two car break-downs that resulted in repairs and a trailer rental to haul one home.  A trip to the minor-emergency clinic and a case of bronchitis that turned into an asthma diagnosis, and….  Well, you get the picture.  A vacation to remember, right?

But, that’s where the title of this story comes into play.  “Choosing to look for the joy”.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve been in a bit of a depressed mood.  (That may be an understatement)  I haven’t been choosing to look for the joy.  I’ve been sad.  I’ve been “down”.  I’ve been feeling sorry for myself.  I’ve wondered where you can turn in a resignation letter to life and just quit.

Then…yesterday, this story start writing itself in my head.  And I stared seeing the bits of joy that have happened this summer.  Quiet moments for the most part.  They didn’t shout out their arrival like the A/C breakdown did.  The joy just sort of happened and waited for me to notice – and appreciate.  I just got so busy running from one problem to another and worrying that I never stopped to be grateful for the good stuff.

Bad stuff has happened aplenty this summer.  Lots more than I’ve shared here.

But…here’s a small listing of the joy that’s come along for the ride…

  • a solid roof over our heads to shelter us and a caught-up mortgage to keep it over our heads
  • new knowledge about money management that I am sharing with my kids so that their life can be easier and they can learn from my mistakes.  Knowledge can be powerful.
  • Health insurance that made medical care available for us when we needed it.
  • The most beautiful beach weather I’ve seen in all the years we’ve been going to Corpus Christi.  Calm winds, bright skies, moderate temperatures, no seaweed, and clear, clear water.
  • A lovely card in the mail from someone I’ve never met in person, but who sensed that I need some love
  • A new, part-time teaching job at a private school close to home.  I’m teaching art once a week and am already in love with my kids.  Such talent and enthusiasm!
  • Friends that have been there along the way and have helped out when we need a helping hand.
  • A successful first week of school for us.  One week in and we are only two days “behind” schedule.
  • A fun field trip to the art museum that included my hubby.
  • Children who are finding their own way in this “big ole world” – making decisions, making mistakes, trying new things and discovering their own joy.

It does seem that life has been “one step forward and two steps back” for too long around here.  So many things are broken and need to be fixed (literally and figuratively).  I get tired.   It can seem hopeless.  And pointless.  Like I said, I can’t figure out where to turn in my resignation…to life.

But, I don’t have a lot of “quit” in me.  And, I’m not going to “plod” through one step at a time.

I am going to take it one step at a time, but I’m going to choose to “step lightly”.  I’m going to look for the joy…I’m going to search for it.  I’m going to do whatever it takes to find it.

This is the life that I have.  I am grateful for it.   I’m going to choose to look for the joy.

Hello Strangers

I’ve been away for a bit…a combination of struggles, achievements, good news, life decisions, family, and projects has been keeping me busy.  In other words – life.

Most of it’s not particularly interesting.  Some of it is possible opportunities that would require serious adjustments in our life and are still in the thinking stages.  My head is just full of “thinking” and I’m having trouble sifting through and putting much into words to share.

But, I’m still here and chugging along.  All my kiddos are at home right now which is fun (and busy).  I’ve been whittling down my “to do” project list.  This cabinet has been in my dining room unpainted for several years.

IMAG0930Ugly, I know.  I guess I just got used to it or kept seeing the potential instead of the reality.  It didn’t take all that long.  Don’t know why I waited, ’cause now it looks like this…

IMAG0938

What a big improvement!

Our family has also started working through the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover.  We’ve had a “sorta” budget for a while.  We mainly just tried to track our spending and keep our heads above water, but now we’re actually budgeting.  Baby steps!  I’m using YNAB (You Need A Budget).  I’m finding it to be very user friendly and accommodating for an inept numbers person like myself.

Then, this last week I’ve made a menu plan that we shopped for and are following.  I seriously cut the amount of money that we were spending on groceries in our new budget.  I chose meals that used a lot of what we already have on hand in the freezer and pantry so a lot of the “shopping” was done here at home.  I spent very little at the grocery store.  Hopefully, this we make meal time less stressful and healthier.  I try to cook at home and eliminate the convenience food and eating out, but we are balancing a lot of different schedules.  When I’ve done menu planning in the past, its been great.

Like I said, most of what’s going on around here is pretty boring.  I’m just trying to focus on becoming more organized and making life simpler in the process.

A lot of areas in my life seem out of control and that’s an unpleasant feeling.  I tend to be a perfectionist so I tend to avoid doing some things.  You know, waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect supplies, or knowing that the outcome will be as good as I’ve hoped.

Painting done imperfectly is better than an unfinished cabinet.  A “close enough” color, a few drips, and recycled knobs look pretty great.

Budgeting done imperfectly is better than uncontrolled spending.  Paying something to everyone is better than not making payments of any kind.  Progress may seem slow, but eventually we’ll get out of debt.

A meal plan (even if it isn’t followed exactly) is better than last minute junk food meals or take-out.

Things done imperfectly still are a blessing to my family.  It’s just hard to take baby steps when I want to fly.

a race vs. a steady pace

I shared that last week was crazy around here…like a race, with Sunday night being the finish line.  It isn’t a bad thing to live life like that once in awhile.  Especially if some of the running is with folks you like to be around and you’re doing stuff you want to be doing.

However, I draw the line at that fast pace being a regular occurrence.  There was a time in my life when that was the norm, but I don’t live there anymore.  I once read somewhere that some people are “rabbits” and some are “turtles”.  Some thrive on a hectic, event-filled life and others just like to go along at a steady pace.

I don’t mind being a turtle.  I’m giving up multi-tasking.  I feel like I miss out on too much detail and joy when I’m not giving something (or someone) my full attention.

I don’t enjoy moving towards a finish line and the next item on an agenda, instead of enjoying the progress along the way.  I am definitely evolving into a journey rather than the destination sort of individual.  It’s been a process (a journey), but I’m working on it with intention.

This week has been an event full, but uneventful time. I’ve been busy with part-time jobs and home-life.  There hasn’t been a lot of rest, but I’ve made sure to schedule some in.  I’m trying to maintain a marathoner’s steady pace that will result in long term change rather than the sprint of last week.

I’m taking a large load of clutter to share with our library thrift shop.  The trash can was full of discarded items, but an equal amount is going to the recycling center today.  It isn’t enough to save the world, but it’s a lot from one household that just started recycling again.  The new recycling center I set up is working out alright.  Not perfect, but adequate.

Our financial situation is looking up.  I’ve acquired some part-time income and we are trying a variation of Dave Ramsey’s Snowball plan to get out of debt.  I’m optimistic about working it all out for the first time in a looooong time.  Being out of debt would be such a relief.

We’ve simplified our lifestyle and spending quite a bit,  but there are still some things I’d like to do in the future.  Baby-steps…a steady pace…too much change, too fast is not a realistic solution.

Sometimes, it’s hard to trod along slowly when I see others racing past me. “Keeping up with the Jones” is one of the reasons I’m not where I’d like to be in life in the first place.

I dream of a simple, contented lifestyle.  A tidy, comfortable home that we can be a family in.  A steady income.  No debts.  The freedom to enjoy a few things…an occasional movie at the theater, art supplies, a steak for my husband now and again, and the things we need without doing without in other areas.

But overall, life is good around here.  I’m a pretty happy turtle…I mean person!

Muddying Up the Water

When I started documenting my personal journey towards a more intentional, simple and peaceful life on this blog, I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go.

I honestly had no idea what this blog might have to do with the journey.  I felt a need to reach out in community and to find some like-minded individuals who might journey with me.  I didn’t really have any expectations that anyone would “like” what I had to share or that anyone would “follow” me.

In fact, I thought quite the opposite – I couldn’t fathom that anyone would be interested in what I had to say.  But I was afraid to start a blog, and facing fear was my challenge at the time…so I wrote.  Some folks like what I have to say.  Some have even chosen to  hit “follow”.  And I am grateful for the affirmation.  I’ve gone to every blog and “met” the writer.  I’m struck by the fact, that on the surface, many of us don’t seem to have much in common at all…not age, occupation, country, gender…nothing that commonly brings folks together.

But, we do have something important in common.  We are all searchers and seekers with a belief that things can be better – and a desire to make it so.  We are different and the same.

I had believed, in the beginning, that this blog would find a focus and generally tend towards one topic more than any others. That has not been the case.  It reflects all the interests (and distractions) that make up my life.

I am deliberately not traveling down a straight highway for this journey.  I want to walk off the beaten path and follow rabbit trails along the way.  I want to believe that I am not too old to give up on dreams and aspirations.  I want to continue to learn new things and make choices that bring me happiness and peace.  I anticipate that I will make mistakes and more than a few choices that are not the right fit.  I will become discouraged and disheartened.

And I will find joy and discover that I am capable of accomplishing things beyond what I expected.

That being said, many of the things I need to accomplish along the way are mundane, difficult and challenging.  Not fun at all.

Sometimes solving one problem worsens another.  It muddies the water.  It makes it difficult to see that any progress is being made at all.  It’s hard to remember to take a step back and regain perspective.  To remember to focus on the whole journey and not just one portion of it.  Sometimes I get lost or hit an unmovable obstacle and have to turn around and retrace my steps to find a new way – a way that takes me towards the goal.  Sometimes it feels like I’m going the wrong direction entirely.

I’ve decided to create a plan – a sort of map that will help guide my journey.   Sort of like a business plan, but not so boring.  It will have to include pictures and colors and lists.   Maybe a journal or a big canvas to hang on the wall.  Just something to help when I can’t see clearly.  A plan. In writing.  That’s the next step.  It probably should have been the first step, but….

I’ve brainstormed of list of things that need to be accomplished and/or that I want to explore during the next days, weeks, months, years…  Remember, I’m brainstorming here!  And, not in any particular order:

  • Get out of debt and get our financial status on solid footing
  • Continue de-cluttering until our home “feels right” and then maintain
  • Continually evaluate our living space and whether it’s meeting our needs (size, location, etc.)
  • Homeschooling my last kiddo and preparing her for life
  • Explore gardening and self-sufficient living
  • Art, art and more art – creating, sharing, exhibiting and selling????
  • Improving and maintaining my health
  • Contributing to making the world a better place
  • Staying connected with family and friends
  • Having more fun
  • Work at being at peace with who I am and who I can become
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Letting go of fear

Not a complete list – I’m sure I’ll think of more.

A pause in the journey to let the muddied water settle.  Then to continue on – one step at a time.