Monday, December 30, 2013

Things Are Getting Awkward

I have a stay-at-home mom friend whose husband has a very good job. She has devoted herself to raising her two children while her husband works a demanding job that requires long hours on site. 

Their older child started college in the fall on a full scholarship, and their other child goes to private school. They just bought a larger home in an upscale area. They travel frequently and take what appear to be very nice vacations. They have relatives who live at the beach and visit them often in the summer months. It seems like a pretty good life. And by her own admission, it is.

Some of the things we used to enjoy talking about were shopping, home decor, and the latest in fashion. We only shopped together once or twice, but would still exchange stories of our latest purchases. It was fun, but it often felt one-sided. With working full time, I never had the luxury of going from store to store to find that perfect purse or side table or dress. She has filled many hours looking for just the right thing. Now that they live in a new, bigger home, her mission is to fill up the new rooms. 

We talked briefly about my interest in minimalism the last time we got together, but I'm still uncomfortable with sharing too many details. Regardless, I got the impression that she didn't take me seriously and would never be interested in minimalism anyway.

I had to work most days last week and am working every day this week except for New Year's Day. I was just hired permanently at my job (I was a contract worker for 1-1/2 years) and took a reduction in pay, although I do now get benefits. I am a little frustrated at having spent a little more money than I wanted to over the holiday and am preparing for a lean January. I am planning to start Project 333 in a few days (more on that later). I have been religiously unsubscribing myself from all of the email lists of my favorite clothing stores.

Anyway, my friend emailed me a link today from one of her favorite stores, which is having a big sale. She said she wanted so badly to buy something from there but she was feeling "poor."


I initially wanted to rail at her and tell her how lucky she is not to have to work or pay college tuition, to have the freedom to decorate her house with whatever she wants and to go out to eat whenever she wants, but I didn't. Instead, I replied that I wasn't going to enable her by saying "Go ahead, treat yourself. You deserve it." I told her she probably had more clothes in her closet than she could possibly wear. I sent her a link to Project 333 and told her I was doing that.

I'm guessing that's not what she wanted to hear. I haven't heard back from her; I am curious to see her reply.

I'm not sure how this whole thing will play out with my current group of friends who are still fully in the throes of consumerism. I am not judging them, but I am starting to see that they shop to fill a void. Many of them don't work, and their kids are getting older (middle school and beyond), and perhaps they have too much time on their hands and are bored, or their kids need them less and they are feeling vulnerable. I get that. But finding just the right blouse or piece of jewelry no longer matters to me. I have everything I need, and that is turning into all I want.

That's why this is getting awkward. I don't want my friends to think I'm judging them when I decline a shopping excursion to the latest craft fair. I'm not. Although I do think that my poor-feeling friend should take a good look at her life and count her blessings.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this in the future.

If you are in the same awkward phase as me, how are you handling it? 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Final Thoughts on Christmas

"Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for God's sake, stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don't."

The quote above is from this article and it had a profound effect on me this past week. The article is about consumption and basically how insane it is on so many levels. The author talks about the useless stuff marketed to the public and often given as Christmas gifts, as well as the impact that making this crap has on the world. Everything that he says about how quickly an item becomes obsolete (within minutes really) was evident with my nephews at Christmas. They opened gifts and looked at them and were excited for about 15 seconds and then moved on to the next thing. When all was said and done, all they wanted to do was wrestle with my sons for two hours anyway.

Right now, I am not really thinking about the rest of the world when it comes to minimalism. Yes, many people are minimalists largely because they are concerned about their carbon footprint or the working conditions of people in third-world countries, etc. For me, at this moment, those issues are not factoring into my goal to simplify my life. I cannot yet get hung up on the quality of the lives of others because I'm still trying to improve the quality of my own. I guess that my disdain for consumerism may eventually filter down to the environment and the world economy, including one or two poor factory workers. But that picture is too big for me to look at right now. 

I'm not even sure that a world where everyone stops buying stuff would be feasible. if everyone stopped buying, wouldn't economies collapse? What would actually happen? Isn't buying and trashing and making and selling and buying and trashing again what makes the world go round? If we all just bought food and necessary clothing and lived in basic housing and didn't work but instead did things like read and write and play games and pursue our passions and travel, then what?

So I don't think about it, and I'm not sure I ever will. All I know is that for me, decluttering and saving and not buying crap I don't need and getting down to basics all provide me with a little bit of peace. It takes stress off my husband when he sees that we are spending less and saving more, and right now, that is what's important. 

Christmas, I am done with you. It's time to move on to January.   

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Wasn't Under the Christmas Tree

This is how our Christmas tree looked on Christmas Eve.

These were the gifts for my two teenage sons and my husband. There are two gifts in the back behind the pile to the right that were for me.

Each boy got six things. Son 1 (age 17) got a plastic french coffee press for when he goes camping, a pair of gloves, a knife, ear buds, a video game, and a ticket to a concert in March. Son 2 (age 14) got slippers, a video game, a t-shirt, two DVDs, and a ticket to the same concert. My husband also gave them some cash to put away for when they go to Disney World in April for four days with the school band.

Son 1 was most thrilled with his coffee press and made himself two cups on Christmas morning. Son 2 was speechless when he saw the concert ticket because it's for his favorite band. My husband and I exchanged gifts but nothing too extravagant.

I am thrilled that the boys were so pleased, and also that they seem to be getting the idea that it's the quality of the gift rather than the quantity that counts. They have to wait two months for the concert but I think they will love it. They also have to wait for Disney, but they are okay with that too, especially since they know that it is an expensive trip and they are lucky to be able to go.

This year we still had to get gifts for a few family members but we strived to be practical. We only received one gift that adds clutter to our house. I may just regift that next year, if I don't donate it first. However, next year I am going to start telling family members early on that we prefer not to exchange presents, at least when it comes to my husband and me and my in-laws. I don't know how that will be received, but I can't worry about that now. I just know that next December, I don't want to be scratching my head wondering what to get my father-in-law that he doesn't already have.

Despite our success this year with the boys, we still were not able to capture that "Christmas spirit." We are not very religious at the moment, so Jesus being the reason for the season does not have an impact on us. I wish that I could be more spiritual, but I just don't know how; I sometimes envy those who are. A very large reason the holidays can be stressful is because my husband has worked many, many Christmas Eves and Days, and trying to spend time with family around his schedule is maddening. 

My dream is to experience Christmas somewhere else...perhaps in a different state (with lots of snow) or maybe in Europe. I would do everything I could to make that happen, except my husband is not the senior guy in his squad, so he never gets first pick for vacation. And he works with a selfish asshole who thinks he's entitled to the holiday week every year, so a Christmas getaway is unlikely. My husband won't be guaranteed that week off until he retires.

Anyway, while we were able to materially simplify the holiday, it still remains very complicated. Perhaps next year.          

Monday, December 23, 2013

Workplace Gift Exchanges, Oh How I Hate Thee

For my current job, and for the one prior to this, there has been the holiday gift exchange. I don't know what it's called's the one where you buy a generic gift for a set dollar amount, pick a number at the holiday party, and when your number is called you can pick a new gift or steal someone else's. I have heard of this being called a Chinese pollyanna, and originally I thought it was supposed consist of gag gifts. However, it seems that many workplaces have adapted this to be less gag and more generic.

Whatever they are called, I hate them.

I do not participate in them. I think they are ridiculous for the following reasons:

1. I don't see the sense in spending money on a buying something that no one needs only to receive a gift in return that I likely don't want or need.

2. Many times, people resort to purchasing alcohol as their gift. I love a nice bottle of wine, but the way they steal booze from each other makes me wonder if we're living in the prohibition era. I'd rather spend my $15 buying myself a nice bottle of wine than leaving it up to luck.

3. Most importantly, this year it goes against my anti-consumerism grain.

I was hoping to just slide in under the radar at the holiday party when I showed up empty handed, but one of my coworkers was aware of my nonparticipation. She looked at me like I had three heads when I told her I wasn't doing it. After the party, another coworker asked me what I got and I told her I didn't participate because I just had too much going on at home and I didn't have time to even think about the gift exchange.

This whole situation made me feel awkward, slightly ashamed, and angry. Awkward because I didn't have a reason for not participating that they could comprehend, ashamed because I didn't have the nerve to tell the truth (I was prepared to use my recently deceased dog as an excuse), and angry because who are they to judge?

Maybe next year I'll have a bit more confidence in my beliefs to share them, in a gentle way, with others. Unfortunately, this holiday season dictates that I behave otherwise.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Have you encountered this in your workplace? How have you handled it? Please share! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Classy Minimalist" Christmas Decor?

This year, in an effort to declutter, I planned to cut way back on my Christmas decorations. I was aiming for "classy minimalist."

I failed.

I still think I overdid it. mantle. Or rather, one wall of my house.

Even though this is considerably less than I have done in the past, I still feel like it might be too much. Unrelated, but we do hang stockings; the gloves just happen to be there because we used the fireplace the day before.

Still, one of my favorite things are the small "twinkle" lights that most people use to adorn their houses during the holidays. The lights on the mantle will stay up all year long, because they make me happy.

The fireplace is a big reason we bought the house. My hosue is a twin, and I didn't think that twins had fireplaces. When I saw this, I was sold. I love my fireplace and don't think I could ever live in a house without one now. We didn't have one in my childhood home, and it was a foreign concept anyway. But it's just one more thing that makes me very happy.

This area will look much different when the holidays are over and the tree is gone. I am already decluttering a few bookcase to put on each side of the fireplace. Pictures will be forthcoming.

How about you? Is there any feature in your home that you really love?

How do you handle holiday decorations?

I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, December 20, 2013

I Love Lamp

I'd like to think that my ability to live with a lamp that I have LOATHED for about 10 years sort of reinforces my commitment to minimalism. If not that, then at least to being thrifty.

When we first moved into our house we didn't have much in the way of overhead lighting, so we had to use lamps in our living room. We painted the living room a ridiculous color, and ended up getting an evergreen lamp to use in there. I can't even remember what the shade looked like, but the lamp itself was pretty ugly. Or rather, as time passed it became ugly to me. It actually seemed fine when we purchased it.

When we finally repainted the living room, I repainted the lamp from green to white. It sufficed for awhile, but the top of it was crooked, so no matter what lamp shade I used, it never quite worked. But I lived with it for about 7 years because it was in the corner of the house and you really kind of had to look for it to notice it. At least that's what I told myself. Also, it was way down on the list of things I wanted to spend money on.

Anyway, I decided a few weeks ago that I was no longer going to live with that lamp. I earned a little extra money over Thanksgiving weekend by dog sitting (more on that later) and treated myself to a new lamp. It did not cost much -- maybe $39 at a local HomeGoods store -- but the joy that it brings me is worth much more than that. It's just a dumb lamp, but I love it.

With regard to Christmas decor, I decided this year to follow the advice of a few other simple living bloggers and use these berries and branches from a bush in my back yard. I cut them in the beginning of December, put them in some water, and called it a day. They are still beautiful, they make me happy, and they didn't cost a thing. The thing on to the right of the lamp is a clock that my mother in law gave me many years ago for Christmas. It plays a tune every hour. I LOVE it, and I keep it out all year long. I'm a sucker for a noisy clock.

All this is to say that small things can make me happy. I didn't look forever for this lamp; it didn't have to be the "perfect" one and cost a fortune; it just had to be a little taller, a more neutral color, and sturdier than the one I already had. And it was worth the wait.

I love lamp. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let's Be Realistic

Hello out there....

I am very new to blogging and somewhat new to minimalism. I've read a lot of blogs on minimalism, and some of them are really inspiring. But some of them are just plain ridiculous, at least when compared to my idea of minimalism. 

This blog is about being a realistic minimalist. Maybe I should have called it that, but I'm still on the down low, so until I'm ready to come out of the closet, Undercover it must be. Plus, I already set up the whole blog under this name and I don't feel like starting over.

My goal is to add realism to minimalism, which is something that I've had a difficult time finding among the current crop of minimalists in the blogosphere (no offense Guy Who Owns 100 Things or Less). In attempt to be as realistic as possible, here are a few things you should know about me:

1. I have no intention of quitting my full-time job to "travel the world with nothing but a backpack." I like my job most days, and I need the money. Yes, I NEED the money.

2. I LOVE television and all of the delightfulness it brings to my life, whether it's reality TV trash or the sophistication of PBS. Therefore, I'm NOT canceling cable and giving away my TV.

3. I'm not becoming a minimalist so I can "live my passion," whatever that means. I'm an average person, with average skills and abilities, and at this point, I don't even know what my passion IS, much less if I would be able to live it.

4. I will be 50 years old in a few months, but this is not some milestone that I feel the need to achieve. My age and the timing of this blog are pure coincidence.

5. I have a husband who has been a police officer for almost 24 years and works like a dog. He used to love his work, but 20+ years of shift work and dealing with the dregs of society are taking its toll.

6. But he can't retire yet because we have two sons, ages 17 and 14. The 17-year-old will be going to college next September (we hope), and in order to keep him from going into unreasonable debt, my husband and I expect to be working for the forseeable future.

7. However, we are not in debt. In fact, we have been extremely smart with money, and we have savings to help pay for college tuition. But when we started saving 16 years ago, we didn't expect that when the time came, one year at a state school would cost about $20,000/year.

8. We live in a modest house and always have. It's a three-bedroom twin in a working-class, suburban neighborhood in eastern Pennsylvania. We never felt the need to move into a bigger home because we preferred taking good vacations and driving nice cars instead. And by nice cars, I don't mean a BMW or a Mercedes. I mean a new Subaru with all of the latest gadgets. I love me a back-up camera and satellite radio.  

These are the things that I think are immediately relevant to this blog, but I'm sure I'll divulge more as time goes on. I want to talk about how minimalism has affected my life so far, and what I eventually hope to gain. I plan to post pictures of areas in my house as I'm clearing them out, and I might even talk about...gasp...personal finance!

So I hope you'll come back and visit regularly. I'd love to know how you're doing in your quest to live a more minimal lifestyle. Hmmm, "more minimal." Does that even make sense?

Off to take pictures of my first public decluttering project. See you soon!