Space. The final frontier.

Space really is the final frontier for me in some ways. Not outer space but the space in which we live. These tiny house people make me feel strangely envious, as I imagine how simple their lives must be with so little stuff, such easy cleaning, such um, extreme coziness. Of course that “small footprint living” only works when you have no children, and when it is early enough in your partnership that you still crave being really closely together every minute.

Anyhow, it has been certainly a small-er house scenario for us. We went from having 2400 square feet with 12 rooms to 1000 square feet and six rooms. What I have learned from that exercise is we all have a whole lot of stuff we really don’t need, and getting rid of it is a constant battle, to the point where “decluttering” is an industry. Pretty sure decluttering was not an issue for our grandparents. We just love stuff, buying new stuff to replace the old and finding places to put it all.

This is not an option for us anymore. We got rid of an absolutely astonishing amount of goods before we moved across the country, and frankly there is none of it that I miss. It is kind of freeing to have less space, because sometimes we literally have no place to put something, so we just don’t buy it. It does make decisions easier.

Living in a big century house made me into a voracious reader of house porn like Canadian House & Home or Country Living magazines. I have dumped that habit, replaced by a love of online pages like Apartment Therapy . Great articles on stylish and mindful small-space living, organisation, DIY and useful stuff like toy rotation systems. (!!) The other plus of course is that I read it online and it takes up no shelf space.

IMG_9116Speaking of shelf space, books are one thing we can hardly cut back on, but we do try. Book space is a priority for us, but we have become choosier about what we buy and what we actually keep. A charity book sale I organise twice a year keeps us under control as I make sure we shift out a couple of boxes to donate each time around.

I am just as much of a thrifter as ever, but what I buy has changed. Last year I scooped a grandfather clock for $10, only to get it home and realise I bought it for our old house. It did not fit in at all with our all-white condo. Plus it had a truly hideous jerry-rigged red clock face. To make the best of it, I ripped out the clock and now the whole thing is a tower bookshelf. Score! Now I just need to paint it white.

As much as we buy, we must get rid of, so it means we have stuff constantly moving in and out. If things don’t “fit” with our lifestyle now, out they go. Oddly enough a painting of antique wooden potato mashers fits much better in a big country kitchen than in a modern condo-sized one. Here it just looks weird.

Sometimes when we visit friends, I look around and observe their stuff compared to ours. I can’t help it, everybody does it so don’t pretend you wouldn’t. It is kind of fascinating. Some friends have a big house but are quite minimalist, with actual empty space in their home. I’ll call it “room to breathe.” Others have so much stuff, every gadget, game, toy, movie, appliance and recreational aid I can possibly imagine. I look at it and I feel a little envious, sure, but I also feel better about what we own. I feel like if I had all that extra baggage, it would stress me out. Sure, maybe our kids would love all that stuff. But they also really love what they have. We have ENOUGH.

Such a big word, enough.

Sure, I would take an RV. A second bathroom is definitely in our future but I will never go back to having three to clean. I won’t say no to a dishwasher. (two years and counting without that) An unlimited book budget would be lovely, but we kind of have that already with the library. A wee bit more room and we could squeeze in another cat and maybe even a dog. (Husband screams “Noooooooooo!”) But honestly, we have enough.

It is enough for us.

IMG_8595 (1)

Do you feel buried in stuff? How do you know when you have enough?

More and more (and less) Part 2

Once I get going on the “simplify” theme, it is hard to stop. Especially when the simplifying actually saves me money.

Oh, if you are just joining me now on the “saving money and simplifying stuff” theme, you might want to read this post first.

Something we are quite passionate about now is growing at least some of our own food. It is cheaper, it tastes better, and it is so ridiculously easy to do that almost everyone can do it. Literally, we prep the soil with a bit of compost and cow poop, plant it and basically ignore it until it is time to start snacking on snow peas and strawberries. Sometimes when I need a little time to myself, a bit of stress relief, I do some weeding. Well worth the few bucks we spend on seeds and new garden gloves every spring.

Last year’s bounty…

At some point in my married life I seem to have morphed into a bit of a do-it-yourselfer. Not something one would ever have suspected of me had they known me earlier in my life. That being said, it is strangely satisfying and much, much cheaper to do many things yourself than to hire an expert. We ripped off and rebuilt a deck last year. I am quite sure it would have cost double had we hired someone, and on the bright side it is still standing and attached to the house so we must have done something right.

Junior carpenter apprentice

Back on the topic of stuff, we have tried since our girls were born to be sensible when it comes to belongings. As soon as children come on the scene, the sheer volume of things seems to grow exponentially just to fill their basic needs. Babies come out of the womb with pretty minimal baggage, but it doesn’t take long for them to take over the house with all of their goods. Now that our little ones are not quite so little, we have tried to pass things on as much as possible, but we still have closets stuffed full of outgrown clothes and toys and cute boots that they wore twice. There are books and toys in almost every room no matter how hard we try to limit the spread. We try to be fairly restricted in toy and book purchases, but there is no stopping Santa and grandparents.

One thing we do to cut back on both clutter and cost is use the library. It helps that I am there all the time, but even if I weren’t we would still get most of our entertainment there. We easily take out 25 kids’ picture and chapter books a week, as well as adult books, the latest magazines, music CDs (gone are the days of only classical music at the library) and movies and television shows on DVD. So it is all free and when we are done with it we return it. One sweep through the house and at least 30 things a week are cleared out. To make room for new! Even when we are on holidays we get a library card where we are staying and pick up a supply of trashy magazines, kids’ books on CD for the car, whatever. It is also a great free rainy-day activity when you are camping to go hang out at the library for a couple of hours.

At our house we have done a lot of the classic “save money and energy” things like change lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, wash everything except ourselves in cold water, seal around the windows to stop heat loss. We even had a home energy audit done on our century house a few years ago when there were still government rebates for energy-saving renovations. It has made a difference, but we still dream of putting in solar hot water and getting rid of oil-powered heat forever. That is not yet in the cards for us, so we continue to find ways to save in other departments.

As I learn more about our finances, I have found that it annoys me more and more that I spend so much on banking fees every month. Now that we have combined finances, the two of us mostly use one account for everything, to get paid into and to pay everything out of. Funny how there seems to be a lot more “coming out” than “going in.” Anyhow, we have increased our banking plan several times, only to find that we still go over the maximum allowed transactions every month, which means paying a monthly fee AND also paying sixty cents for every extra transaction. To get unlimited transactions would cost $14 a month. Yep, it’s ridiculous. Paying $14 a month to a bank that is making billions in profits every year from OUR money.

Well, they may only be making a few dollars off my money personally, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, I decided to check out the online banks, and ING was offering me $50 to open an account with them. That got my attention. They offered ME $50 if I deposited $100 in a new account. And they don’t have any transaction fees for regular things like paying bills. None. So just for signing up, I got $50 and I saved $14 to $16 a month on bank fees. Huh. Almost $200 a year. Now I don’t usually promote brands, but I am so annoyed with the regular banks that I am willing to brag a little about this. And if other people are referred to ING by me, we EACH get a $25 bonus. I am willing to suffer the humiliation of doing their marketing for them, so here is the link:

https://content.ingdirect.ca/swfs/en/widget_160_400.swf

Ah yes, did I mention we don’t buy booze anymore? Of all the cost-cutting measures, that seems the harshest. I suppose in the olden days we would have just fired up the still out back to make some home brew. Just a wee glass of icy cold wine on a summer’s eve is truly a luxury, but hey, we do what we must to get off the merry-go-round of debt. And someday, we will get there.

More and more and more, Part 1

Do you ever feel like your stuff is just going to gang up on you and squish the living daylights out of you? Or is that just me?

TOO MUCH STUFF

There seems to be an out-of-control need for stuff in our world, and it gets tougher every year to resist the pull of all that bigger, better, more expensive stuff. I was reading The Wealthy Barber Returns (I know, it is hard to  believe) and one of author David Chilton’s short chapters talked about how we in this time in history seem to have greater need for stuff than ever before, are never satisfied with what we DO have, and are constantly seeking new ways to get the stuff, even if it means (and it always means) going into debt. Bigger television, newer car, trendy clothes, a new cellphone every flipping year (WHAT is up with that??!),  music, video games,  home reno materials, more and more toys for all ages. The list goes on forever. And I am just as guilty as anyone, craving an iPad for the simple reason that it just looks cool.

All that being said, times are tight around here and we have experienced a complete shift in our thinking as a result. And you know what? I feel more happy and less stressed than I have in years. You know why? One simple reason. In the past, every time we spent money on things like those listed above, or on trips, weekends away, dinners out, knickknacks from Winners, whatever, I knew somewhere deep inside that we did not need them, AND we could not afford them. That creates a lot of stress. I am, of course, Queen of Denial, and we’re talking about a girl who once many unwise years ago took cash advances out on her Canadian Tire credit card to pay her rent. Ahem. So I could spend with the best of the spenders, and I did have that whole “I deserve it” mentality.

Times have changed, and with only one person in the family fully-employed at the moment, times HAD to change. And we have embraced it. In the process, we are not only getting by, but have paid off credit card debt and are continuing to save for our children’s education and our emergency fund. So, how do we do that? Well, let me share a few ways. I know there are lots of frugal living blogs out there, but if even one of our ideas helps someone save some cash, I would be happy.

We cut costs to the bone. As soon as we knew we were down to one job for the household, we wrote down all of our monthly expenses so that we would know just what we needed to continue. Then we started cutting, to make sure our lower income would still cover everything. I am an avid couponer, and I follow some great blogs like Mrs. January, Bargain Moose and Smart Canucks. These blogs tell me where to find the best coupons, how to find freebies and more. When I see my grocery bill come back showing me I saved 9 per cent (or even 33 per cent) by using coupons, I know it is worth it. That is our money and we are keeping it.

I also got rid of my credit card that charged a higher interest rate plus a monthly fee. Why should I pay for a service I can get from another company for free? I switched to a card that has no fee and I pay it off at the end of every month. Simple, right? But I have never ever done that before. Next I called the company which shall remain nameless but is pretty much the only provider of phone and internet service here. I had seen an ad on their website offering new customers a rate for phone and internet that was $35 less than what we were paying. I called and asked for that rate. The first person said no. I spoke to someone else, and was told again the rate was for new customers only. So I told him to cut my service, then I would just open up a new account the next day and be a new customer. Needless to say, I got the better rate, and he threw in the ultra high speed internet as well. We don’t make long-distance calls on the phone anymore, but do it online with Skype or the Google phone service.

Again, I say, why should we pay for something that another company will give us for free?

I have written before about our frugal Christmas, and we have continued to keep gift-giving to some pretty strict rules, which include a smaller budget and more handmade and upcycled gifts. I am also going to confess to a little driveway-surfing. I don’t know what the proper term is, but it happens when people just put unwanted items at the end of their driveways and other people come along and pick them up. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure and all that. The girls and I were driving home from a visit last fall and saw this at the end of someone’s driveway, beside their trash bags. 

Can you believe it?? It’s a beautiful dollhouse. The girls love it.

Just yesterday we were saying that we needed a little school desk for homework. I was driving home later that same day and guess what I saw? A fab retro school desk, made of sturdy chrome and some kind of indestructible melamine-like stuff, just sitting on the side of the road. I screeched to a stop, backed up, snagged it and took it home. It is PERFECT. And free.

Twenty years ago I would have cringed at the very idea of taking someone else’s cast-offs, but now I know better. With everyone buying new things constantly, “cast-offs” are often as good as new. Times change, and so do I.

There are SO many ways to change your mindset on spending and saving, and no one way works for everyone. Next time, I will share a few more ways we are trying to make a difference, while also teaching our daughters about sensible consumption. Stay tuned!

What are some of the things you do to save money and cut corners? I would love to know.