Saturday, January 30, 2010

Modes of Being

I would like to be less focused on consumption. My days seem to revolve around undoing my past consumption (decluttering); consuming food and preparing to consume food (cooking, shopping); and consuming information/fiction (books, blogs, movies, etc.). Especially the last one.

What other "modes" of being are there? Creation, of course. That's the one I'm most interested in increasing. I call myself a writer, and have managed to do some fairly serious writing, but spend a shockingly small amount of time on it as compared to other things.

Reflection is another mode--doing nothing, or writing, or meditating. And then there's just plain action--exercise, physical labor. Maybe maintenance (cleaning, mending, fixing) is a mode of being, too, though to me that seems fairly closely related to consumption.

My financial and consumption-related activities for today:

  • Mailed BSC books off to the winner of the ebay auction
  • Posted the few remaining BSC books on paperbackswap
  • Returned a shower curtain that we were dissatisfied with
  • Picked up books that I had on hold at the library
  • Went to the grocery store and spent about $6.50 on basic groceries
  • Boiled a bunch of potatoes so we'll use them instead of letting them go bad
  • Cooked the "Spanish Rice Mix" that we've had for at least a year
  • Made the canteloupe that was about to go bad into a not-terrible smoothie (R.'s idea)
  • Got rid of a binder, a small notebook, a large journal, the sixth season of Sex and the City, two magazines, and a few assorted papers
With the removal of the BSC books and the other items I got rid of today I am finally feeling like I might be drawing closer to "enough"--my ideal amount of stuff. I only have 86 books left, and I think I might be ready to let go of a couple more. Files remain my biggest decluttering challenge, but I'm slowly making a dent in them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Financial Diary, January 27, 2010

The money-related things I did today:

  • picked up an admittedly somewhat gross penny. I always pick up pennies. Every one is a minuscule amount of time that I don't have to work.
  • did several hours' worth of copy editing at $30 an hour. A type of work I actually like.
  • prepared a Paperbackswap book to send
  • read an article and watched a documentary on Dolly Freed, author of Possum Living. Was very excited to see that someone found the author of this strange-but-wonderful book on living very frugally. Was less excited to discover that her father was an alcoholic, and sounds emotionally abusive, too. He also spent several years vagrant and died alone. Which is ironic because...seriously, just read the article. And the book, if you're at all inclined towards extreme frugality or self-sufficiency.
  • posted an announcement of that still-continuing ebay auction on a Livejournal community
  • redeemed some Swagbucks (referral link) for a $5 Amazon gift card.
  • sent a check to my SEP-IRA to push my balance above $2000 so I can invest the money (instead of keeping it in the money market account where it's been for the past two years) without incurring a "small balance" charge.
  • got my annual "cash back" credit card rebate of $37.92
  • didn't spend any money. The last time I spent something was last Thursday, $1.90 at the post office. Tomorrow, though, I'll break that streak by paying rent.
I was about to publish this and realized I forgot to include the biggest economic activity I engaged in today: worked 8.5 hours at my day job, and earned about $170 after tax and my 401(k) deduction, probably more like $350 to $400 if you were to count the cost of my benefits.

I spent 2.5 or 3 hours of that actually working, including an hourlong conference call and a meeting with my boss where she both semi-chewed me out for something I considered quite minor and asked me if I'd be willing to switch my day off (currently Wednesday) so that we can have regular staff meetings on Wednesdays. Staff meetings at my job are a special circle of hell, due to the complex and tension-laden relationships among my coworkers, and usually are blessedly infrequent. I suspect this sudden ramping up of the number of staff meetings is in preparation for a layoff that may happen in April. Hopefully it will just be the one person I think it will be and not someone who actually does their work. (Despite the fact that I only spent about 3 hours on work today, I *do* do my work . . . I'm just fast.)

Ain't employment grand? About six years left to go . . . even if I don't make my early retirement goal by then (and judging from last year's spending I won't), I think I'll let myself quit my current job on my 35th birthday and at least go freelance for a while.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Past Week or So in Frugality and Minimalism, Bullet Point Edition

  • Sent my saxophone and music to my brother via my mom, who was on her way to see him. He's started trying to play it, and if he gets good enough will offer saxophone lessons (one of his major sources of income is teaching voice, piano, and guitar). I feel good about the decision to give it to him--the saxophone was definitely something that he can use more than me.
  • Deposited a $360 check from freelancing
  • Wrote an email to boyfriend explaining why he should open a Roth IRA (that is, so that we can tax shelter more money).
  • Cooked several things with boyfriend: potato salad, quasi-fries, fried chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and banana bread. Fridge is now full of delicious homemade food. Boyfriend, who grew up on pizza, McDonald's, and Stouffer's, is growing by leaps and bounds in his cooking skills.
  • Sent two paperbackswap books, one more ready to go.
  • Got rid of the books I own that are in the public domain--finally realized that there's no real reason to keep a tattered copy of A Little Princess when I can read it online anytime I want.
  • Listed my large Baby-sitters Club collection on ebay (this is the most embarrassing collection ever, but on the off chance that anyone reading remembers these books nostalgically, I'm putting in the link). I assembled this collection in 2006-2007, and I would have said back then I would keep it basically forever. I used to read books from this series all the time--sort of a comfort thing--but now I haven't touched one in almost a year. I think the real excitement with this collection came from finding the books (in thrift stores, on trading communities) and reading the ones I hadn't ever read. Many of the books I know I won't read again, and if I want to, I can always do the whole business over again. I probably won't get as much from selling it as I spent on assembling it, but it'll go to someone who will appreciate it and I won't have to lug it to the next 16 homes I live in.
What's Next?
  • Investing the money that's been sitting in my Fidelity money market account for Way Too Long
  • Figuring out something to do with the $24,000 that just rolled over from a CD into my savings
  • Canceling Netflix
  • Continuing to roll in the Swagbucks. Boyfriend has totally drunk the Kool-Aid and now we're getting an average of $10 at Amazon every two weeks.
  • More possible discards: Sex and the City DVDs, bicycle, dead Grandma's silverware, lots and lots of papers (I stacked up all my files yesterday and I have 41 inches of papers).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Is Minimalism a Spiritual Pursuit?

On Early Retirement Extreme the other day, Jacob described minimalism and uncluttering as "new-age" practices. (I do occasionally read things other than Early Retirement Extreme. I promise.) At first I thought, my minimalism doesn't work that way. And then I thought, well, maybe it kind of does.

I'm not new age in the slightest. I tend to avoid people who are interested in new-age topics, because I am afraid they will start talking about a) The Law of Attraction, b) "monkey mind" or c) angels. I do not want to hear about your experiences with these things, but neither do I want to tell you my true feelings on these subjects, because you are a friend/coworker/pleasant-seeming stranger and I see no reason to start a conflict about these things when it's unlikely we will ever agree anyhow.

My interest in minimalism is not about "clean" design or ascetism. I simply want to have less stuff. There is a very practical side to my uncluttering--I want to create more space in my house. Plus it just plain feels good to me to have less stuff, to really use and value the things I own.

But there's also a less concrete side, that wants to get rid of the stuff to create mental space. I moved around a lot growing up and I have frequent dreams where I have to pack everything I own in a short period of time or with only a backpack to hold it or without packing supplies. They are very anxious dreams, and the stuff in the dreams is a confused tangle of utter junk and precious treasures, like my diaries. In fact, I had one of these dreams on Saturday night. And part of me thinks that if I minimize to the point that I only have the things that really matter to me, and can pack everything in a short amount of time, those dreams will go away. I have no idea if that's true. But part of me hopes that.

So I keep going. Yesterday I sent my saxophone to my brother in Texas. Today, I'll get rid of a few more papers. A little at a time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Last Purchase of Year, First Purchase of Year

What was your last purchase of 2009? What was your first purchase of 2010? These purchases are no more significant than any other purchases, but thinking about them might provide some insight into your financial habits.

My last purchase of 2009: $19 for lunch with a friend and her mom.
My friend ordered a similar priced entree, and we both made a face when we looked at the bill and realized how much our food had cost. Her mom quietly ordered an "eggplant steak" appetizer, which looked like about the same amount of food and cost $6.95.

Was this purchase worthy of being my last in 2009? No! It was a good lunch, but I could have had a similar amount of pleasure for about 40% of the price.

My first purchase of 2010: $2.77 to mail a Paperbackswap book
Was this purchase worthy of being my first for 2010? Perhaps. I get a lot of obscure reading material from Paperbackswap, which I enjoy. But when I looked at my end of year spending, I didn't like how much I'd spent on sending Paperbackswap books. This amount should naturally decrease, since I liquidated a lot of my library in 2009 and no longer have as many books listed on Paperbackswap, but I'm also giving myself a limit of sending out 25 books on Paperbackswap. That should be more than enough credits for how I use Paperbackswap (getting books I want to read that aren't available in the Chicago Public Library).

I'm not really satisfied with either of these purchases. I especially don't like that both of them are luxuries. In 2010, I want to spend much less on "luxuries," increasing the percentage of my spending that goes to true necessities, like basic groceries and rent. This isn't because I don't feel I "deserve" luxuries, but because I have big goals (see older posts) that are made easier the less I spend.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Another, more extensive, inventory

The 100 Thing challenge undertaken by various bloggers intrigues me, but the number seems arbitrary. I've yet to see anyone claim to do this without making various exceptions for shared items, books, or "collections" of items. Probably this is because it's basically impossible for a middle-class Westerner to actually reduce his or her material goods to 100 things, including everything he or she uses for necessary activities (cooking, sleeping, hygiene, fixing things) and everything used for entertainment.

Clothes and books would be my two biggest challenges. Most people seem to make an exception for books, which I think is kind of cheating. If I were to undertake this challenge seriously I would probably have to make a similar exception, but why are books, as material objects, any more valuable than DVDs or knick-knacks? I haven't seen anyone make an exception for clothes, maybe because most of the people doing this challenge seem to be men.

I recently downsized my library to 100 items, and could probably lose 10 or 15 more volumes if I was really tough on myself. I am a *huge* reader (5-7 books a week), and most of the volumes that remain on my shelves are relatively obscure works that are either not available in the Chicago Public Library system or that are likely to be weeded soon (i.e., ephemeral works of 90s young adult literature). I also hung on to a few more popular works that I consider "comfort books," books I reread when I'm depressed or have a bad case of ennui, like A Little Princess and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Those would be the most likely candidates for removal if/when I do another purge.

I don't have any real interest in minimizing my wardrobe. I do weed out anything I haven't worn in six months, but I like having a variety of clothes to choose from. For a woman, I think it would be much harder to have a wardrobe of less than 100 items, although Tammy from RowdyKittens managed it. I don't see how I could get to a wardrobe that small without giving up skirts and "feminine" shoes altogether.

I currently own about 400 items, including books and wardrobe. I'm still cheating a little--well, a lot. I'm not itemizing a certain book collection or a Rubbermaid full of Christmas stuff that probably includes 100 items just on its own. And, uh, those innocent items "file cabinet 1" and "file cabinet 2" include thousands of papers. Possibly tens of thousands.

I am making progress, though. As of this morning, I own approximately 114 things that aren't clothes, books, or things shared with my boyfriend (hammer, DVD player, etc. are mostly shared with the boyfriend). Anything that I could get rid of without him caring is on this list. I also took off the consumables, like deodorant, even though I've been tracking those for my own purposes. (Again, though, that distinction is kind of arbitrary--is contact solution consumable, even though I've had it for years, and isn't an eraser, technically, consumable?) [UPDATE: While preparing this list for posting, I got rid of a few more things and am now down to 90. I intend to get rid of several more items, marked in red.]

Lists like this show me both how similar we are and how idiosyncratic. Almost everyone has a comb and a toothbrush, but Dave Bruno has a surfboard, plus two Bibles, in his 100 things, and Tammy has a fuel belt for running (I don't have the faintest idea what that is). I, on the other hand, even in my quasi-minimalist state, have oil pencils and a pair of old jeans that no longer fit.

1. Teak table (and desk blotter)
2. lamp
3. bookshelf
4. bike (and helmet, lock)--will be getting rid of and hopefully replacing with a bike more practical for our small third-floor apartment
5. papasan chair
6. file cabinet 1
7. file cabinet 2
8. cell phone
9. laptop
10. speakers
11. mouse
12. tweezers
13. bag for washing nylons
14. sponges and toiletries kit for holding sponges
15. comb
16. toothbrush
17. tongue scraper
18. bag’o’hairties
19. hairdryer
20. contact case
21. spare contacts
22. exercise ball
23. oil pencils
24. needlepoint canvas
25. needlepoint
26. gallon ziplock bag of thread and embroidery floss
27. cross-stitch sampler
28. 64-crayon set
29. pencil sharpener
30. stapler & staples
31. paintbrushes (5)
32. small box of sewing findings
33. flashlight
34. acrylics
35. bag of crochet hooks
36. Derwent watercolor pencils
37. box of business cards
38. box of stationary
39. eraser
40. poster putty
41. computer backup
42. Mouse software
43. Office XP

44. Windows XP
45. laptop recovery
46. Photoshop Elements
47. diskettes (5)--files on these disks are corrupted. Want to try them on another computer before giving up on them.
48. Zip disks (3)--Want to try to retrieve the files on these, but don't have a Zip drive
49. Stainless steel
water bottle
50. second stainless steel water bottle (acquired free; I wouldn't go out and buy a second one)
51. pot shaped like eggplant, made by me
52. handmade pot made by friend
53. volksmarch medal, designed by me as a child
54. stacking doll
55. gong--will probably discard
56. one bead
57. beach glass from friend
58. foreign coins (8, mostly Germany and England)
59. Middle Eastern plate--will discard, want to see if it has any resale value
60. cut glass crudite dish from Grandma
61. Rubbermaid of Christmas things
62. childhood teddy bear
63. jeans from high school with quotes, song lyrics, etc.
64. 1890 map of Minnesota
65. journal (current)
66. globe
67. Egyptian pillow cover
68. Grandma Evie’s silver--never use; will sell eventually
69. fabric from vintage dress
70. Egyptian silk
71. Picture of Audrey Hepburn
72. incense holder
73. binoculars
74. hot water bottle
75. eyeglass repair kit
76. wooden box
77. glasses
78. Life as We Knew It poster
79. wallet
80. earring hanger
81. jewelry box
82. sleeping bag and stuff sack
83. portfolio
84. pedometer
85. large suitcase
86. carry-on suitcase
87. duffle bag
88. Framed calligraphy
89. Framed photograph of my old neighborhood