donating, home life, reading

Little by Little

I wish I had a before picture to show you, or a factual number, or anything. And I do have before pictures I’ll have to find, hidden on my external hard drive from years ago. Pictures of the backpack I lived out of for six months, pictures of my 450 sq ft apartment, pictures of the vast emptiness of my two bedroom house when I first moved in. Pictures of all the clutter when my husband moved his storage shed from Oklahoma into our back room (even though I would hate to see those – talk about anxiety!). Pictures of moving in another kid and struggling to keep the house clean while hating my day job.

I am working on the house little by little, but I get on these kicks. I can donate half of my wardrobe in twenty minutes on a good day. Doesn’t fit? Gone. Hate that color now? Gone. Doesn’t feel comfy? Gone. Thankfully, my clothes are mostly from thrift stores anyway (don’t buy new!) so it’s never a huge loss, trying to argue that I spent so much on it, I at least have to keep it and try to wear it again.

Truthfully, I can sever ties to my belongings in a snap. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s there. And when I get in the mood, I want to get rid of everything.

I have been re-reading some of the books on my shelves lately. There are some hardcore favorites I want to keep copies of. But some I remember fondly but hazily, and those are the ones I’m re-reading. Do I really want to keep them? So far, we’re 3 for 3 – donations are winning! They were nice to re-read and I will still remember them fondly, but they don’t pack a punch or blow me away. They’re just… nice, so I don’t feel the need to keep them.

This is a pretty big shift in how I used to think about books. I wanted to own all the books. I would buy dozens at used book sales and keep them, whether I had read them or not! I figured I’d get to them someday. Now I just use my Goodreads “Want To Read” list and keep my shelves a little more sparse.

It helps me to think of that sometimes – how my attitude in owning books has changed. Because I’ve never been stylish or into clothes, so getting rid of those is no problem. But books are special to me, and if I can be strict with what I keep in that aspect, I know the rest of my house and life will come together, too. Little by little.

home life, money, school, working

Montessori School

I have a lot of thoughts on the public school system, from my memories as a student (skewed, I know), to being a teacher, to being a prospective parent. I’ll try to not get too… opinionated here, because I know every school system is different and the more specific I get to my district, the less helpful my insights will be to others.

I worked in an elementary school in a middle class area; the school had high ratings and incredibly high enrollment – there were over 860 kids there when I was there. We were understaffed, even if no one would admit it or no one could fix it. Classrooms pushed 30 kids, and that was way too much. I worked as a librarian so I saw all of these kids on a rotating schedule, and I always dreaded the 30-kid classes. It’s too much.

My son went to an inclusive preschool three days a week, mostly for socialization. They learn a lot there, but the pace is different since there are so many kids with different abilities. He used to go to a different school 5 days a week, full days, when I worked full time. He fit in there and learned a lot, including Spanish. But it seemed like he was on the road to behavior problems, because he always acted out with one friend. Those behaviors disappeared once he was in a classroom with kids ranging from 3-6, and with drastically different abilities. I loved this preschool because he saw so many differently-abled kids and worked with them on their levels. He has told me about some of his friends and it makes me happy that he has this understanding and compassion from a young age.

Now he is going to a Montessori school. Well, right now it is the school’s summer camp. I got a dream job at the school so I am prepping my classroom this summer while he attends camp. I think Montessori is perfect for him because he loves to learn, and has specific interests, and wants to be able to learn at his pace and on his level. Again, he will be in a class with 3-5/6 year olds. I think this is great because he will see older kids as role models, and can strive to be a good role model for those younger than him.

I was so anxious about putting him in public school. I detest our system as it is, and while I know he would adapt and socialize and fit in, I didn’t want that. I don’t want him to become a cookie cutter kid when he is so smart and curious. I want him to move around and pick his tasks and learn practical life skills from school, instead of being pushed to read and write and do worksheets in kindergarten.

I really wanted to homeschool him, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. When I was working from home, I was working 15 hours a week while he was in childcare. If needed, I worked some at night after he was asleep. And I loved working from home, and wanted to continue to do it for the flexible schedule. But now, I will be working in the same place as him. I will know what he’s learning and how. I’m still learning about the Montessori method, but I know some from a previous job at a learning center and really agree with the approach. I think this is the best compromise to homeschooling – being near enough him (no worries with drop off and pick up times at school coinciding with my work schedule!) and knowing he is learning in a method that will encourage his growth and individuality. Plus, as I said it’s a dream job for me, and teaching there means a discount on tuition. I was looking forward to public school being free, but if that’s the only perk to an education, it’s not a perk at all!

I’m eager to keep learning about Montessori as it applies to me as a teacher and parent, and I’m eager to see how he reacts to it. I’ll definitely be sharing more as I build my classroom and curriculum.

 

home life, money

Moving

Moving is tough. After being born and raised in one house, I moved a lot in my 20s. I stayed in each apartment for about a year around Memphis, then moved away to grad school for a year. Then moved back, then traveled, and then moved around a bit more before buying my house. Though it was always hard, I got pretty good at moving. I still have my fingers crossed that I won’t have to move again, or at least for a long time.

Packing. It can be done in so many ways. Often I through clothes, pillows, and linens into garbage bags because you will get them out sooner than most boxed stuff, and you can smush those bags into the cracks between boxes to help with space.

Oh boxes. I used to move with whatever boxes people had left from packages (before everything was delivered from Amazon), or from grocery and liquor stores. The problem with those boxes is that sometimes they were carrying something that is packed differently than your belongings would be, so you start to put together a box and realize It doesn’t have a bottom! 

For that reason alone, I finally bought boxes when I was moving home from grad school. I went to Home Depot and bought a set of ten or so boxes for not-too-much money. A lot of people scoff at buying boxes, but you know what? I packed them and drove them in a U-Haul trailer from DC to Memphis. I moved them into my new home. I kept them in a storage unit for six months. I moved them into a new apartment. And I moved them into my house. There are still some holding things in my attic. I’m not saying they last longer than free boxes, but I’m saying they have earned their worth by lasting so many moves. It was worth the money to know I had the size and number of boxes I needed. If you don’t want to pay for boxes – don’t! It’s not a big deal either way, and I’ve moved with free boxes and moved with bought boxes and it’s all the same.

And it’s never fun.

The best thing about moving, besides getting a new place that you (hopefully!) love, is having the chance to look at all of your stuff. I have always downsized during moves. Whether it’s stuff you forgot you had and don’t need anymore, or you just get tired of packing and decide to get rid of the rest, it’s a great opportunity to get minimalize. Sometimes unpacking is a great time for that, too – when you get to the point that you just can’t look at another box – donate it!

writing

Audience

I used to have a personal blog to write about writing, traveling, volunteering, and random things I did or found funny. The blog voice was my voice, but it became stilted as more people read it. I felt like I had to play to my audience.

I took a break from blogging for several years, and still wrote, but it was always for work. I haven’t written short stories in a long time, and that used to be my passion. I haven’t written conversational blogs. I started this blog thinking it would be a bit more… academic? Not citing my sources, necessarily, but I thought it would be an outlet for me to research going green and saving money, sharing what I learned, and exploring that type of lifestyle while documenting what works and what doesn’t work.

In reality, I’m not sure the academic voice is one that fits for this… or for me. I don’t think I have an audience right now, so it’s a good chance to find my voice over these first few months of posting. And, reading back over it, I do see my voice changing a lot. I can write an academic paper with the best of them, and get a perfect score. I can write web content with minor revisions and earn that paycheck. But blogging… I think blogging, to me, will already be personal. And since this blog is about adapting my life to my research and ideals, well – that’s pretty personal! So I think it’s ok if my tone is personal, too.

Like I said, I don’t really have an audience right now. Why not write in my own voice, and the audience I gain (if any!) will appreciate that tone as much as the information I present. And then, hopefully it will be easier for me to stick with my tone even if the blog or audience changes, because it’s my natural tone and informal writing style.

That being said – hello A to Z Challenge audience! I’m so excited to meet you via blogs and comments.

home life, money

Finding Your Focus

The tagline of the blog states my family’s mission, if you will: to go green, save green, and minimalize. I’m going to be breaking this down a lot because I feel like it’s a pretty loaded statement; there are a lot of goals there, and a lot of ways to meet those goals. Going green can be pretty easy if you can shell out money for the best organic, recyclable products. Saving green could be easiest if you buy cheap products that are full of chemicals and shrouded in plastic. Minimalizing could be easier if you just trash all the things you don’t need anymore.

But part of our goal is to accomplish these three things without sacrificing the others. Due to tax season, money has been on my mind, so that’s what I want to focus on first.

Studies have shown that most Americans don’t have $1,000 in savings, and we are lucky to have more than that. We have enough to cover a major unexpected expense, or if everything goes along smoothly (knock on wood), enough to cover over a year of our typical bills and expenses. We should have more saved, according to some reports, but I feel comfortable with where we are right now.

Even so, with money on my mind, it’s not the most important thing in our lives. We have been making changes lately, some which benefit our bank accounts, and some not so much:

  1. I am working from home. This meant a huge slash in our monthly income, but also greatly improves our family dynamics. Quitting my job was a tough choice for me, because I accepted it thinking it was my “career”, the one thing I could do until retirement. The truth was, it wasn’t all I thought it would be, but I was determined to stick it out. The paycheck, benefits, and time off made it worth it on paper. In reality, it affected my mood, and gave me near-constant anxiety attacks. I didn’t have the time, energy, or desire to do anything at home – chores or fun. We finally realized that if I quit and worked from home, a lot of other things could change for the better.
  2. My son goes to a closer, cheaper daycare, part-time. Since I am working from home in a field I’m experienced in, I knew I could set my own hours and get enough work during that time to help offset our lost income. There was a certain preschool I wanted my son to attend since before he was old enough, but the hours weren’t long enough once I got a full-time job. Now that my time is flexible, I knew I wanted him to go to this school. After the initial enrollment fee, the monthly cost saves us over $200 a month compared to where he went before. Also, I get to spend two additional days a week with him, so it’s win-win!
  3. We use less gas. This is another win-win: spend less money, make less pollution. My son’s school is less than 3 miles from our house, while his old school was 12 miles away. It used to take us 20 minutes to get to his school – and that’s with good traffic on the highway! Now it takes me less than 20 minutes round-trip on surface roads. Less time in the car, less gas used, fewer fill-ups at the pump, less money spent on gas, and more time I can work from home, because I don’t have to cut half an hour out of my work time to go pick him up.
  4. I do more at home. I don’t mind household tasks, with the exception of vacuuming/sweeping and putting away leftovers (both of those are my husband’s jobs). I like washing dishes. I like cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, and tidying the rest of the house. I have the time and energy and desire to do all of this, so it’s not on my husband and me to try and find time to do these jobs after work or on the weekend. Having a clean, attractive house is important to me, and makes me feel so much better. While I place a lot of my anxiety issues on my old job, I admit that some of that unhappiness came from living in a pigpen.
  5. I cook dinners. I love cooking, and even when I lived alone I enjoyed cooking really nice dinners for myself. Working a stressful job more than full-time meant I would get home late, have no energy to cook, and would prepare just about anything. My husband cooks too, so it wasn’t like we went hungry, but the kids ate a lot of frozen food, and we ate out a lot more because that’s such an easy choice to make, and so easy to pick up on your way home. Now I enjoy cooking dinner several nights a week, and we sit down to dinner together before 8pm, and the whole mood in the house just seems better.
  6. I plan dinners. My husband used to do the grocery shopping because I hate grocery shopping, and didn’t want to give up my meager spare time to go to the store. My husband would stop by the store every other day, picking up something for that night’s dinner, or spending our entire grocery budget on stuff that wouldn’t make many complete meals. Now that I have more time at home, I go to the store with a two week meal plan in mind. I buy pretty much everything we need in one trip, and know that we will use it within the two week period. Our grocery bill is under control, and we’re eating good stuff for dinners.

More changes will come as the seasons change, since we have a clothesline in the backyard and are planning our first garden. I’ll update about that as it happens. I also realize that what I’ve laid out here doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not presenting it as a solution. Not everyone can work from home, or send their kid to a part-time preschool. I’ll delve more into that in later posts, while explaining why it worked so well for us.

That being said, with all the worrying we do about money, it’s not always the most important thing. So we might be “saving green” as our mission states, but we have also lost a lot of green in terms of my previous job’s salary. The question is, is it worth it? For us, yes. We are focused on saving money, but in a way that best benefits our family. Having a huge nest egg isn’t worth anything to us if we don’t have a rich home life.

What is your family’s current focus?