Thursday, July 31, 2014

Porch Progress

The ficus tree is gone! 

Last night, as I stood there looking at it on my porch, I was a bit nostalgic and started having second thoughts about keeping it. I have always loved the look of trees with twinkle/fairy lights and was very excited when I got one for free. However, after having it for 5+ years, it was time to kick it to the curb. It was also broken, because I tried bending the branches too far and it broke off.

Once my son carried it outside with the rest of the trash, I felt 20 pounds lighter, and I remembered how wonderful it feels when you make that final decision and release something you no longer love. 

And again I thought, "Why am I not doing this more often?"

I also put the following items in a bag for charity:
  • the cd player/radio
  • a wooden and glass candle lantern (not one of the two pictured; a different one and for crying out loud, why did I need three?)
  • a couple of books
  • two old Nerf guns that have not been touched in a year
  • a pair of roller blades
  • two baseball hats
  • a candle holder
I am making progress. As soon as I clear off one whole side, I will post a photo. Right now, the lack of the fake tree has already brightened the place up and made it look less cluttered. I wish I didn't have to work at my real job today so I could get back to it. 

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Front Porch, Which Will Someday Be My Oasis

When we bought our house about 20 years ago, one of the selling points for me was that it had an enclosed front porch. My childhood home did not have a porch, so I thought this was wonderful. It was all windows though and not very functional for most of the year. The windows were old and it wasn't heated, so it ended up being a storage area for a long time. 

About 12 years ago, we had it redone. It has three fewer windows (we put a wall on the shared side) and added a coat closet. While it still isn't heated, it is more insulated so it's much more usable during the year. In fact, in the winter, a small space heater is enough to warm it completely.

When my kids were younger, it held toys, toys and more toys. As they got older, I was able to convince my husband to get some shelving and I got a cheap two-seater couch from my previous job when we moved offices. A friend gave me a very nice cedar chest, which used to house sports equipment but now holds miscellaneous items that probably need to be sorted.  

I went through the whole porch this time last year, getting rid of what I could, before I moved on to my living room and before I started this blog. But here I am a year later, and it's a disaster again. My goal is to REALLY declutter it over the next few weeks so that I can make it into a nice peaceful space. I have the good fortune to be able to work from home sometimes, and I plan to make it into a work space as well. 

Here are some before pictures.

One side that faces our driveway. The front door is on the left, and to the right is the door that enters our living room. The little golden thing at the bottom of the picture is the dog that I'm currently watching.
That is a shelving unit from Ikea along with the matching baskets. In the baskets are such things as dog leashes/bags/collars, my hats/gloves/scarves, my shoes that I wear in the winter (boots, heavy sneakers), and my sons' hats. One of the basket-less shelves holds old binders for school (we try to reuse them each year if possible) and a black basket with loose leaf paper, pens, etc. 

On the left of the unit is something that really belongs in my car, shopping bags, and rock salt. On the right is one of those plastic rolling carts that holds yet more paper, pens, markers, crayons, etc. Finally, there is a giant fake ficus tree. I used to have twinkle lights on it and kept it in my living room but the lights broke and when I redid the LR, I moved this monstrosity to the porch for lack of a better place to put it. I will discuss the fate of the ficus later.

This is facing the inside of the house. The door and ficus tree are to the left of the green end table. On the other side of the windows is my living room. 
There's my cheap little office couch that works just fine. In fact, when the room was less cluttered, I often liked to curl up and take a nap out there on weekends. 

I love the table (although there's a lot of junk in there) and the box on top of it is some college stuff for my son that will be removed soon. You can see the cedar chest in the foreground. In the back right is another Ikea shelving unit that holds games and books, which also need to be sorted. Many of them are my husband's books from COLLEGE. It's hard to convince him that the laws of business have changed and his Finance 101 textbook is no longer relevant.

This faces the street. The front door is to the right. The is obviously the same type of shelving unit from Ikea with baskets. They hold an old video recorder, tapes that need to be made into CDs, candles and candle holders, some toys, and other miscellaneous stuff. The shoe rack to the left is falling apart, and I should really invest in a better quality one when I get the chance. Those shoes belong to my sons, and their feet are HUGE. Although why my older son needs five pairs of boots and four pair of sneakers is beyond me. He takes after my husband, who is a shoe whore.  

Atop the shelf you can see my penchant for candle lanterns. I love them, but I never quite know where to put them. I don't have any plans to get rid of them though. The globe is an old family heirloom so that will stay, but the radio/CD player can be donated. 

This is just a different view of the street facing windows. The view out my windows is of the street, and the windows are high enough to offer plenty of privacy while letting in a lot of light and nice views of the trees and landscaping of the giant house across the street. 

This is an overall view that is opposite from the wall with the other shelves and the ficus tree.

Much of the work here is to declutter...again. Someday I would love to replace one of the storage units and the couch with wicker furniture and make it more of a conversation area. Right now, when I do sit out here, there is only enough seating for two people. The windows make it hard to do much else other than keep the shelving on its side. Otherwise, I'd stand it up and put a nice chair out there. 

I think the ultimate goal would be to declutter enough that I don't even need the second shelf. Then I could make a case for a couple of nice chairs or something. 

Anyway, this is my next project. I had planned to do my basement by the end of 2014, but that is just too overwhelming right now. Plus, I really want to be able to use this room more when I work from home. It will be warm/cool enough to last me until late October or November before I have to turn on the little space heater. 

I will keep you posted with my progress. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Life's a Budget. At Least for Us.

I just saw that there were a few comments on a couple of my lasts posts. Thank you for missing me! I really do appreciate it and it motivates me to soldier on.

Just wanted to give a short update on life in general. In 2 weeks we'll be dropping my son off at college. He is going to a very small private military college close to home. However, he'll be living there and we won't have any contact with him for six weeks. They have intense training during those weeks...sort of like boot camp, and there is a ceremony when he is finished. He's excited, but I'm in denial. I am going to miss that boy. 

I will also miss the freedom we've had with our finances. Not that we are well to do by any means, and we've always kept a budget, but now there will be additional expenses for his schooling, as well as saving more each month for tuition. After scholarship money and a loan, we will be paying about $15,000/year. We have withdrawn about $10,000 of that from his college savings, which were in the form of mutual funds and stocks, and the other $5,000 to $7,000 will be coming out of our pockets.  

So begins a period of cutting even further back on spending. 

I recall that last September, my husband and I agreed to stop spending so much money each month on things like eating out (and clothes) and we did well. I didn't feel deprived, because aside from an "allowance" of $140 every two weeks, I was also allowed to spend $150 on the credit card once a month. I managed to stay within those limits for most of the year. It really only went to pot when my son graduated high school (party), we got our bathroom done and I accessorized it, then we went on vacation, and then did a few things this summer, and spent money on college supplies, and well, we haven't saved a dime in months. We both feel like we've been hemorrhaging cash. 

We will probably have one more expensive dinner out the night before we drop my so off at school. I've tasted the food in the dining hall at school, and it's not good, so we'll send him off with the leftover taste of prime rib in his mouth.

I'm not sure if I mentioned that I have a dog sitting business on the side, and that has netted us several thousand dollars over the years. This summer looks to be pretty lucrative when it's all said and done, and that helps. It usually provides the spending money for our vacation each year. It is hard work, and my rugs and yard have taken a beating, but I have a bunch of people who rely on me to watch their dogs when they go away, and I love the pooches I do watch. Still, I am grateful at the end of the summer when vacation season is over and I can give my house a good cleaning.

Anyway, in two weeks, when my elder son is gone, my husband and I will have to sit down and go over our budget and set limits. Somehow, it doesn't seem as hard to do in the fall as it does in the summer, perhaps because I am more satisfied with my fall/winter wardrobe than I usually am with spring/summer. Oh well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why I Need Project 333

I did Project 333 from January to April and I blogged about how great it was for me. However, when April 1 rolled around and I was challenged to again go through my clothes and get rid of what I didn't wear, it was still mighty chilly here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We did not officially turn our heat off until the very end of April, and I could not even fathom looking at my spring clothes, much less getting them out and going through them. 

So I decided I didn't need no stinkin' Project 333, and I would instead wait for warmer weather and get all of my spring/summer clothes out at once. That process happened one weekend either at the very end of April or the very beginning of May, I can't remember which. At that point, we had had a few warmish days and I figured that it would be safe to put away my black and gray sweaters. Also, since it can go from the low 60s to upper 80s here in the span of a day or two, I didn't think that I could POSSIBLY narrow my wardrobe down to 33 spring items when I knew I'd be wearing my tank tops in a month's time. 

Here it is July 23. As in years past, I am thinking, "There aren't enough warm days in a year for me to wear all of the possible outfit combinations I can come up with, so at least some of my clothes will go unworn...again." 

I thought it would be different. I thought I learned my lesson this winter after the first round. I thought I'd give all of my spring/summer clothes the equal love they deserved and wear them all at least once, if not several times. And yet...

Here I am pulling out the same pieces of clothing every morning and switching it up enough to create a different outfit. Hmmm, there's a phrase for this, I just know it. 

Capsule wardrobe. 

Let me diverge for a second here. I, the "undercover minimalist," have continued to buy clothes. Let me say that again. I've continued to buy clothes. Have I learned NOTHING?!?!

So far this spring and summer, I have purchased:

  •  three dresses (I already have four that I like and are flattering on me)
  • a pair of black pants because I didn't lose enough weight to fit into the pair I already owned
  • a pair of red flats because I needed something to go with the RED sweater I also bought (even though I donated a pair of flats in the exact same shade of red last year)
  • above-referenced red sweater
  • a pair of white sandals because I felt I actually needed white shoes even though I haven't owned white sandals/shoes for almost a decade
  • TWO white T-shirts for layering because hey, buy in multiples!
  • five printed T-shirts 
  • a black sweater because apparently I need three
  • an off-white lightweight sweater because one is not good enough
  • a pair of khaki pants because two aren't enough
  • a black button down shirt because BLACK
  • a white eyelet suit-jacket-type jacket because it was $10 and on super sale at the outlets
  • a royal blue skirt
  • an orange skirt
  • a plain black T shirt
  • an aqua T shirt
  • a pair of khaki sandals
  • two summer scarves
  • a dressier white short-sleeved shirt
  • a blue and white v-neck sweater
I think there are a few more things in there, but I can't remember them at the moment. But wait! I have a good reason; lots of them actually! I NEEDED everything I bought. Or at least that's what I tell myself. To be fair, I did fill a few gaps in my closet and replaced a few items (black sweater, white tees), and I have walked away without getting anything a few times. I also purged a large bag of items that I knew were too uncomfortable or just not me to ever wear again. 

Oh, the outfit combinations are ENDLESS. So endless in fact, that I'll live to a ripe old age before I can wear them all. So endless that I get overwhelmed all over again looking at my closets. So endless that I wear the same things over and over and over again. Some of my clothes in the closet are pieces that are now too warm to wear but worked well for all of April and a few days in early May. However, I should probably put them out of sight because I won't wear them again until October at the earliest. But the rest...well, there are things I know darned well I won't wear ever again but I'm caught up in the old "getting rid of them is like throwing money away" mindset, not to mention the "what if I want to wear this one day?" thoughts that haunt me. 

And so I shall attempt to do a thorough closet declutter by the official end of the summer. The reason I say end of summer is because I was far too busy during the months of June and July to take the time to try everything on and make mindful decisions about what can stay and what should go. 

I know I posted about this before, but I really, truly have learned things from my first (and only) round of P333. I have learned that I don't like V neck shirts but prefer rounded necklines when it comes to T-shirts for layering. The opposite holds true for sweaters -- I don't like rounded necks with buttons but prefer sweaters with no buttons at all or V necks with buttons. I have also learned that without a doubt black, gray, and white are the crown jewels of colors. Aside from the red sweater I bought, everything else I bought for work is either black, gray, or white. I can liven things up with scarves or jewelry, but sticking to those basics makes getting dressed each morning infinitely easier.

I have also learned that while quality over quantity is the ideal, sometimes things don't have to be of the very best quality to serve your needs. Of those patterned T-shirts I bought, I got three cute ones from Old Navy. Two of them were specifically for two pairs of casual pants that I have, and the third was because I felt I needed something blue and white for the red, white and blue summer holidays. Old Navy T-shirts are the best fitting ones that I have found. Their "perfect tee" has spandex in it so no shrinkage and it keeps it's shape, and the ones I got for summer are lightweight and not as fitted so they hide my rolls. I wash them in the machine but hang them to dry and they are wrinkle free and ready for the next wear. 

So I've missed the spring round of P333 and the new round that started on July 1. I don't think I can get serious about it again until the next round on Oct. 1. By then I will be sick of my summer clothes anyway and will be ready to downsize. At least I hope I am. 

Next up...purses!    


Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Minimalist Bathroom

We have been in our house for about 20 years. It is what is known as a "starter home" in our neighborhood, and yet we never considered it so. We had always intended for it to be our final home, or "forever" home as they say nowadays.

Before we moved in, we had the main bathroom redone. I don't say the "master bath" because up until about 7 years ago, it was the ONLY bath, and so belonged to all inhabitants of the house. At the time, pink was in so I did what everyone was doing, and I had the whole thing tiled in pink. I also was very into the natural wood look, so I had wainscoting put up in there as well. We were also keen to have a whirlpool tub (now known as a "spa" tub) as well. (Side note: I think I used the whirlpool aspect about 10 times in 20 years. It was a pain to clean and just wasn't worth it.)

So after basically rebuilding our house one room at a time, it was time for the bathroom to be redone. I could have lived with the wood, but I could no longer take the pink tile or the tub. My husband couldn't stand any of it. However, I felt that I should be true to my new found minimalist ways and "make do." But if we ever wanted to sell the house, we'd have to redo it anyway, so why not do it now when we can enjoy it. 

After looking at magazines and touring home improvement stores, I went back to the original sink I wanted: a trough-like sink from Ikea. It is long and narrow and has two faucets. It was the closest I would ever come to a double sink, so I was determined to get it. Below the sink isn't a standard cabinet; it's double wide drawers. I went with white because the floor tile would be gray, and I wanted to stay away from any color that would date it.  

We had the work done while we were on vacation, and I didn't know that my contractor was going to have it painted. I thought it would be primed and I would be painting it myself, and I decided on a very light grey. However, since the contractor painted it and the room now looked HUGE, I decided to leave it as is until I either get sick of it or the weather cools down enough to paint. So without further ado, here it is.

The trough sink with two faucets. The thing in the middle is the soap dispenser. I love the back splash. The medicine cabinet is mirrored inside with glass shelves. I'm not sure I need to see that much of myself on a daily basis.

The floor, mostly
One corner of the tub. I love the shelves. My husband did not want subway tiles until he saw them in a display at the tile store. It was not hard to convince him after that.
Too shelves above the toilet. We have very little on the top shelf.
The other side of the tub/shower. We have nothing to put on the top shelf. We went with a curved shower curtain rod. I've been wanting to do that for years and I'm so glad we did. We should have done it much sooner.
The top drawer under the sink. My makeup now stays in the drawer instead of on a shelf, and my hair products lie flat behind it. The dividers are adjustable, which is a handy feature. There is plenty of reading material (sorry if TMI) and the lighter is a necessity for the candle over the toilet. Don't ask.
The bottom drawer. It is very deep. I have enough room for 10 rolls of TP! My hair stuff is in the middle drawer. I got rid of a few curling irons I was never going to use again.
The view from the hallway. The window treatment right now is a hand towel that I bought to use for company. Until I figure out what to do with the top of the window, this has been working quite well. It offers privacy but doesn't block out too much light. And the design matches the shower curtain quite well.

The bathroom is very small, but having a long, shallow sink gives us quite a bit more room to stand. The medicine cabinet has 4 shelves and we haven't filled them all, because there is nothing else that we need. However, I neglect to mention that there is a hall closet with four large shelves to hold additional toiletries. However, that is mostly additional shampoo, etc., because I can't get my husband to stop buying shampoo and body wash when it's on sale!

One last thing. My husband was dead set on getting a cast iron tub even though they are a thousand times heavier than the newer materials. I was against it because of the weight and expense (they're a little more expensive than the acrylic I wanted). But now that it's in, I am a fan. It just feels more solid and supposedly, when I take a bath, it will keep the water hotter longer. I guess I'll find out in the winter. 

The minimal look now makes the rest of the house look old and crappy. Oh well.