home life, money, natural living

Living Without Air Conditioning

I’m not.

Living without air conditioning, that is. So I guess this title is clickbait, sorry!

I tried to live without air conditioning. My yard gets nice sun and my windows let in a nice amount of natural light, but overall my house stays pretty cool. I had a new heating and cooling system put in about two years ago – a major investment, but worth it because there has been a noticeable drop in my utility bills, while my house still stays at an enjoyable temperature.

This spring I had two ceiling fans added into the house. The 2 bedrooms and back playroom already had fans with light fixtures. The living room didn’t have anything – we used two wall mounted lamps and a floor lamp in the corner for meager light. My “office” had a chandelier, because it was technically a dining room. Slight digression for the glorious Mitch Hedberg:

I just bought a 2-bedroom house, but I think I get to decide how many bedrooms there are, don’t you? “F*(% you, real estate lady! This bedroom has an oven in it! This bedroom’s got a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom’s over in that guy’s house! Sir, you have one of my bedrooms, are you aware? Don’t decorate it!”

I hated the chandelier, and wanted to get a cool light fixture to spruce up my office, but then I figured since I was switching out the fixture already, why not get a practical fan?

So I did. I bought the most basic white builder’s fan for my office, and a slightly more stylish white fan for the living room. The living room didn’t have anything on the ceiling other than that lovely popcorn finish, so I had to hire electricians. They went up in the attic and drilled and cut and wired and did their thing very quickly and efficiently, and switched out my office chandelier, and voila! I had a fan in every room but the kitchen.

Having ceiling fans everywhere, and a window in every room that could open, made me think I could live without air conditioning until June 1st. That was my goal. Think of the low, low utility bill! Think of how empowered I would feel, beating the system, living life au natural!

Cue getting ready for bed, slightly sweaty, looking at the thermostat – 78 degrees! Oh my god, I’m not going to last! What day is it? It was May 2nd. I kept thinking I wasn’t going to make it…

 

year of living minimally

The Year of Living Minimally: Week Three

I’ve been decluttering for several months now, but I feel like the past week or two have been my spring cleaning time. It will definitely continue to the next two weeks as well, because I have a lot to do and want to get it mostly done before summer is in full swing.

  • I went through old papers that were kept in the “Important Papers” folder. Some related to old jobs, some just were out of date. At my son’s first preschool, a half-page progress report was sent home every day. I saved these – for quite awhile, it seemed! I guess I was so nervous and proud of him starting full-time school at 2 years old that I wanted to keep them? I’m not sure of the reasoning. But they were only printed on one side, so I kept those, and other one-sided papers that didn’t have any personal info on them and cut them up into scrap paper. I put a small stack near the computer to jot down notes, and pinned others to the fridge to use for grocery lists. Papers with personal info will be shredded and recycled.

paperslips

  • Instead of buying a new room spray, I added water and a few drops of lavender oil to the empty spray bottle. This should seem like a given, but I was seriously about to add a new bottle to my Amazon cart before I realized – DUH! I can make my own. Embarrassingly simple to have overlooked like that.
  • My mom sent me a link to a nice top that “looked like me”. It was on clearance and I was very tempted to buy it! I even looked around the site some more and added another item or two to my cart. They were all on clearance, but I clicked the window closed. I don’t need new clothes. I already have too many clothes I don’t wear, and I don’t need to be spending money on more, even on clearance prices.
  • On a similar note – I am unsubscribing from emails that ask me to buy something. Sites I’ve bought from before continually email me with coupon codes, special deals, new merch, etc. I don’t need any of it! If I see it, I might want it. Even if I click out without buying anything, it’s still a waste of time and mental energy to stop myself, so why not cut out the temptation completely?
  • I cut several things out of my Amazon Subscribe and Save list. Things I don’t need, or don’t need as often, or can just buy at the grocery store with digital coupons. I still to evaluate the actual worth of Subscribe and Save, but I’ll get to that later.
  • The week was rainy off and on, so it was cooler out. We turned the thermostat to be warmer and even then the ceiling fans kept us really cool!
  • I organized a LOT in the 2 small closets in the back room (and cleaned up that room overall) and the hall closet. I threw out old stuff in the bathroom and rearranged the bins we use to store things (the bathroom is basically ALL open shelving). Next up: the 2 bedroom closets.

On to the not-so-great:

  • I did two loads of laundry this week, one was the usual load and one was smaller because it included my son’s stuffed animal. I put both in the dryer – the stuffed animal because I wasn’t sure if it would thoroughly dry on the line and get soft, and the regular load because it was raining off and on all week, usually coming on suddenly, and I didn’t want to hang out clothes and risk them getting rained on and having to re-wash.
  • My son and I ate fast food lunch this week. Not great because I am trying to be healthier, and I feel like having fast food can sometimes be “breaking the seal” for me. I haven’t had it in so long and I’ll be fine, but once I had it, I remember how delightfully junky it truly is, and how easy to pick up and eat with no prep and little clean up! But it was after we had a nice, special morning together, and I’m not craving it a couple of days later, so maybe it’s ok this time. It was more than we usually spend on meals made at home, though, which is another great reason to cut it out.
  • Another day we had Chinese for dinner. Again, I love Chinese but the longer I go without it, the longer I can last without it. I was craving it one night and my son said he wanted it too, so I ordered it. What we order isn’t too expensive, and the leftovers last so long, that it turns out to only be a few dollars more per meal than things we would make ourselves. So it’s not really a bad thing (we get at least 3 meals apiece from our order) but it’s not great we did it the same week as having fast food.
donating, fun, home life

Let the Music Do the Talking

I used to have a HUGE music collection. As a teenager, there was nothing I loved more than spending my money on CDs. This was that weird period where CD and cassette singles were being phased out, but iTunes wasn’t up and running to buy whatever individual songs you wanted. There was Napster, sure (wow am I dating myself…), but you ran the risk of downloading something that was 3 minutes of static instead of the song, or even worse, a virus that could kill your computer. What a time to be alive!

Instead, I’d go to Best Buy (I can’t stand them now because of all the time I spent there as a teen) and buy an $18 CD. I always made myself listen to the whole album… kinda. I would start it and listen to all the songs before the radio single (which always seems to be track 3 or 4). Then I’d usually be hooked on those songs and keep going back to re-listen. Which was actually ok, because then I had “new” music to listen to later, when I finally listened to the last half of the album!

Cut to present day. I decided to upload all of my music onto my computer and give away most of my CDs. I kept all of my favorite bands’ albums, and some bootlegs and rare stuff. Even some CD singles, believe it or not! (I still have a few cassettes in my car from when my tape player worked – RIP.)

I still buy music, but through iTunes. No liner notes to read over as the album plays – so sad! Did anyone else love doing that? If I buy a record from a favorite artist, it will come with a digital download code, so I download and import into iTunes.

My laptop died about a year ago; I was sad, but thought “oh well.” I logged into iTunes on my desktop and voila – over half my music was gone! Apple support told me that those albums had been downloaded onto my hard drive, not into iTunes – even though I imported all of the music into iTunes.

Is this common knowledge? If not, I’m an idiot and missed it somehow. But I feel like this is not really advertised. Of course, there is the whole issue of you not really “owning” the music you buy through iTunes like you would “own” a CD, so I’m pretty confused about all of that. But I digress.

Luckily I backed up my computers regularly, including my iTunes folders, so I still have most or all of the albums as digital files on my external hard drive. But if I hadn’t done that, just thinking “Since they’re in my iTunes account, they’ll link up anywhere!”, then I would be out a WHOLE lot of music.

In the long run, it wouldn’t REALLY matter, because I don’t know what albums I’m missing. I could go through it all and check, but that won’t happen. What usually happens is I’m dying to hear a certain song, scroll around, and realize it’s not on my iPod. (Yes I still have an iPod.) Then I get sad, but I usually just find it on YouTube or look for it on my external drive if I remember by the time I get home.

I got rid of a lot of CDs and am very proud of that – compare my collections! This was my collection in high school/college – sorry for the blurriness, but you can get a good idea of how many CDs I owned!

cdsold

I think my mom gave me this card catalog when I moved into my first apartment. All of those drawers used to be filled with CDs, with others stacked on top. I have more CDs than shown here – each drawer holds about 18 – which is a LOT! And I don’t even have a CD player, besides my computer. But they hold memories and I can’t let go yet, so at least they are nicely organized and out of the way.

cdsnow

Next up: getting rid of records!

 

 

donating, money

Selling Your Stuff

I used to sell a lot online; this was when I was an undergrad and needed all the pennies I could collect. I would sell old textbooks on half.com (RIP – that was the BEST site to sell on), and I sold a few things on eBay that took off in the last few minutes of the auction, much to my broke-student relief!

Since then, I haven’t sold much online. I used to list a lot of books on PaperbackSwap, but that’s a fair trade, not selling. When it comes to getting rid of things, I would rather get rid of them immediately instead of have them lurking around a week in hopes they sell. I try to match my items with the best donation center, like taking books to the library and baby clothes to Catholic Charities, who gives them to families for free.

I had a few days with no projects on the task list, so I decided to take time to list a bunch of items I had around the house. I had planned on donating them, but I thought they might be worth something to someone. A Squirrel Girl figurine, for example – just donating that might be a waste because they might not know what it is. Why not list it for a couple of bucks?

I ended up listing 31 items over 2 days. It took about 15 minutes to list each item, from photographing it and measuring it, to writing about it. I tried to write funny, engaging descriptions because I’ve seen auctions go well because of the writing. I wasn’t trying to go viral – I just wanted someone to want one of my things and bid on it because they liked the overall tone and wanted to buy from me over someone else.

Three items sold from my first day of auctions. Three out of thirteen. Not great.

Three more sold the next day. Three out of eighteen. Even worse.

I thought it was better than nothing – I wasn’t working those days, so at least it was something. You could say that I made about $70 on those days, for about 10 hours of work (listing, packing, shipping).

Then… the post office. I don’t know if I got ripped off, or if ebay shipping estimates are just totally off, or what. But I spend almost $45 on shipping! This majorly cut into my profits. I still made about $30 on junk I was going to get rid of anyway, so I’m trying to see it as free money. But I put so much work into it… just not worth it.

For me, it’s just easier to donate what I don’t want anymore. I know I paid money for it, but I got my use out of the item and don’t need it anymore, so what little I actually lose on it is fine, because I get peace of mind. I know the item is not cluttering up my house anymore, and hopefully it goes to someone who wants it. I will probably list a few more specific things, like camera accessories, but otherwise I’ll just donate the bulk of my unwanted items.

Have you had good luck selling things online? Is it worth the time and effort you put in?

year of living minimally

The Year of Living Minimally: Week Two

This past week was a good week. I felt really on top of my game in pretty much every aspect of my life, which was a nice change from the last several months!

  • I only did one load of laundry. It’s so nice to be able to do my clothes, my son’s clothes, towels, washcloths, and napkins in one load of laundry. It conserves water, power, and time.
  • My utility bill was about $30 less than normal! This doesn’t take into account using fans over A/C (I’ll have a post on that later), just not needing anything for a few glorious days.
  • I have been spending a lot less, period. I’ll explore this in more detail when I do my monthly spending breakdown, but it’s so exciting to keep track of bank accounts and… not have much to keep track of! (In a good way – I just realized that could also sound like nothing is in there – ha! Just that not much is coming out, so I don’t have to keep track.)
  • I got a lot of books from the library. This doesn’t really sound like anything new, but for a few months at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, if my library didn’t have a book, I just bought it from Amazon. Usually I have only kept books by my favorite authors and kids’ books. But for awhile I was in the “treat yoself” mindset and bought any book I wanted to read. Now I just add them to my impossibly long “Want To Read” Goodreads shelf, and/or add them to my PaperbackSwap wish list.
  • I went grocery shopping last Sunday (not yesterday) and spent $105. This is really good because I’ve spent closer to $140-160 the last couple of visits, even with me watching my spending. We needed less this time, and still have some food left from previous visits, but it felt nice to have a lower bill and see how long it will last. I did not go to the grocery yesterday, thank goodness, because I hate grocery shopping, but also because we have plenty of food left – even produce that is still good.
  • I did the dishes every other day. This is more housekeeping than being minimal or conserving… but sometimes I let dishes stack up and it makes me feel gross just looking at them. They’re not dirty – I rinse them thoroughly after use so there’s no bug problem, but I just see it as a pile of something to do. I started doing them every other morning while my coffee was brewing, and it made me feel productive and made the house look better.
  • I finally dyed the clothes I bought back in January. Again, this is not necessarily minimalism, but it’s something I enjoy doing, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months! I wanted to wait until we had sunny days so I could let the clothes bask in the sun. I think they turned out really great – I’ll share once they’re completely done.

A couple of not-so-great things:

  • I drove more this week. I had a meeting at a school about 20 minutes away. I drove my son to gymnastics (about 20 minutes again), and then had dinner at a friend’s house waaaay far out. All of these outings were fun and worth it, but it was more driving than I’ve done in awhile.
  • I made food for my friend’s dinner from stuff I already had at home, but also stopped by a store to pick up drinks and dessert, so I spent more than I should have – just bringing the dish was enough, bringing the other stuff was just because I was craving it. Whoops!
  • Also, we got home late and the leftover dish stayed in the car while I put my son to bed, and it was forgotten until the next morning. That means the food was wasted, which made me feel horrible. There wasn’t much left, but still – it was food, and it was an avoidable mistake. UGH.
food, money, shopping

Giving Up Starbucks

I gave up Starbucks for Lent. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice, because I hadn’t visited very often since my son switched schools. His old school was right down the street from a Starbucks, so I’d drop him off, place a mobile order, then run in to get my massive iced coffee and go. It was easy, and only a few bucks… right? Except this iced coffee was like $3 a visit, and while I didn’t do it every day, I did it at least once a week. Spending $12 a month on iced coffee when I already made my morning coffee at home… why?!

After giving Starbucks up for Lent, I went back once. Then all the news stories started coming out, and while I know the stuff that happens in Starbucks stores isn’t necessarily endorsed or encouraged by Starbucks as a company, and they seem to be reacting well to the concerns… I just wasn’t sure I wanted to support them anymore.

Let’s be honest: Starbucks is not good.

If you like plain coffee, you probably prefer to brew your own. I’ve never had good plain hot coffee from Starbucks – it always tastes too strong, or too weak, or is gritty. I like their iced coffee with cream, which has never tasted bad to me (except the time the barista added sugar I didn’t ask for – yuck!).

If you like milkshakes disguised as coffee, you probably like Starbucks. I used to live off Frappucinos as a teenager. It’s how I got hooked on coffee, so thank you for my addiction, Starbucks. But as I started to love coffee, I started to hate Starbucks. We’d place a group order on Fridays at work and the sugar brighten up the slow day. But when you want coffee, it just won’t do. Too sweet, not enough coffee taste.

PLUS the price. People are paying $5 for a medium cup of overly sugared coffee that contains their calories for the day. And that’s a BASIC drink from the menu. If you want to add flavors and shots, then you’ve added another 2 bucks. A large drink is like $7… That could be a fast food MEAL! An entire meal for the price of a cup of coffee.

Not to mention that you visit every week, so you’re spending over $20 a month on coffee. And by “you” I don’t just mean you, I am included. I would happily spend this for “coffee”, and then at the grocery store I would balk over buying a $7 BAG OF COFFEE that can make two weeks worth of POTS of coffee…

Let’s do the math: I make a pot of coffee every day, and a bag lasts me close to two weeks. Let’s say 12 pots of coffee, just to be safe with our numbers. 8 cups of coffee per pot, which fuels my mornings from 9 to noon. 8 cups per pot times 12 pots is 96 cups of coffee. For a bag of coffee grounds that costs $7, which, if you remember, is about the price of one large Starbucks coffee. 96 versus one – what should win?

96 medium cups of Starbucks coffee would be about $480. That’s my kid’s school tuition each month. And I know it would be damn hard to drink 96 cups of Starbucks coffee in a month – you’d blow up from sugar or calories or something, but still.

I honestly couldn’t drink 96 cups of Starbucks in a year, and the star rewards really help – free coffee after 125 stars, which aren’t too hard to obtain. That’s how they hook you – the thrill of the chase, the contest! I have a gold Starbucks card. Not a credit card – a card I transfer money to, to spend money at Starbucks. But it’s gold, Jerry! It has my name on it. I am important. It shows everyone that I spend a shit ton of money at Starbucks.

But that’s stopping. I mean, I have money left on my card, so I’ll have to drain it, or give it to someone. And use my last free coffee reward – I always go all out on my free drink with extra espresso shots, flavors galore, the biggest bucket you can give me! (And then don’t eat for the rest of the day…) But after that, I’m letting go of this Starbucks gold. I don’t need to spend the money when I can make my own delicious coffee at home. If I want to go out for coffee, there are local coffee shops I really love and should patronize instead.

food, money, shopping

Coupons

I missed the whole “extreme couponing” movement, and I’m not into it now. I used to collect paper coupons, but usually forgot them when I went to the store – even though I clipped them to the fridge RIGHT NEXT TO THE GROCERY LIST. Go figure. I think I saw them so often that they just blended in with the fridge magnets.

A friend told me about Kroger’s digital coupons, so I started stalking those and adding them to my card. I base my grocery list around coupons, to an extent. I don’t have much brand loyalty – I usually buy store brand because it’s just as delicious as a “real” brand, but a lot cheaper. But if I see a coupon, I’ll make a note of the brand name on my list, as well as how much the coupon is worth. At the store I can see if the coupon is really worth it, or if the item is still more expensive than another brand.

I like using any type of coupon because it makes me try different brands, and sometimes different foods. I usually have the staples I buy – I still remember my weekly grocery haul when I lived in my studio apartment: eggs, apples, a block of cheese, milk, and bread. Once a month I’d buy a bag of salmon fillets, vat of peanut butter and some coffee. My breakfasts were eggs, my lunches were peanut butter sandwiches and apples, and my dinners were salmon. I’m still in that mindset, because my kid eats the same things every day. But I’m trying to cook more, eat healthier, and go paleo, so I’m buying different things. Using coupons makes me feel like I’m being “practical” when I try different stuff.

Kroger also has free items on Friday – you add the coupon to your card on Friday, and can use it for about a week, so you don’t have to go to the store ON Friday. A few weeks ago, I got a free bag of chips. A free bag of chips! It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s worth $3 or $4, and can be doled out into my kid’s lunch for a good two weeks or so (unless I eat them all in one sitting).

When I go shopping for the big monthly haul, I usually spend about $140. That provides most meals for the month, but I’ll stop back in two weeks later for more produce and some things I might need for upcoming meals. My groceries have been about $300 a month, but I’m trying to get better about that – or at least better about WHAT I’m buying. The coupons really help, though they are rarely for produce. Meat coupons have helped a lot, as well as random things I’ll get for my kid to take for school lunches. Coupon savings usually add up to $25 or $30 per big haul visit!

Kroger also gives you codes on your receipt to get fuel discounts – don’t forget to do this! The points add up and I’ve gotten $.50 off per gallon before! The surveys are pretty boring but it takes five minutes and you can do it every 7 days, so it really adds up.