Simple Living // One : My Story

Hello, friends,

Today I am starting a series that I’m calling Simple Living.  Simplicity has been a core value in my life and on this blog for many years, but I’ve been distracted from that theme for awhile.  Here is the story of how the journey began and where I am now:

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I grew up in a family that values simple things.  We were never into “keeping up with the Joneses.”  We’ve always been a DIY kind of family, and my kids love to talk about how “old fashioned” Papa is because he heats his home with a pot belly stove and uses wonderful spring water from the hill out back.

In 2001, I married my college sweetheart.  As brand new college graduates, we didn’t own much, made very little money as graduate student teaching associates, and had an absolute blast!  We were very careful at budgeting and even saved enough money to take a two week vacation to Florida (including Disney World) when we had been married about a year and a half.  We got our first credit card that year, and we did so only because it was required for the hotel reservation.  We used only cash for every aspect of the trip.  We needed few things, and we were so busy with school and enjoying married life that we did not accumulate much.  Except books.  I can make no good excuse for our book collection!  Anyway, we moved out of our tiny (but adorable) attic apartment in 2004 after finishing our masters degrees and bought our first house.  We continued our graduate work at a new university and added two children to the mix by 2008.  Our house was small, and we were rapidly filling it with THINGS.  We continued to keep our schedule fairly simple (if you consider school, work, church, and family simple), and in general, my preferred aesthetic then and now is simple, clear, and fresh.  I don’t have extravagant taste, and I would choose a single daisy over a dozen roses any day.  YET the sense that we had too much was creeping in.

In the summer of 2011, we welcomed our third child and moved to Florida.  It was a huge move.  A thousand miles.  My husband had received a new job at a small university, and the kind people there helped us find a rental house until we could buy a home.  Our time ran out at the first house, and we moved into a second rental.  All of that moving around taught me an important lesson.  We had moved to Florida with only a small fraction of our belongings.  We packed only a small collection of clothes for ourselves and our children.  Our two boys packed one small box of toys and books.  The houses were furnished and had kitchen supplies, so we only took sheets and a few bath towels.  You know what?  It was wonderful.  I only missed  a few things–my vegetable peeler and some of my books.  When we successfully purchased our new house, I truly did not want the bulk of our stuff to come into it.  But the stuff came.  We were moving from 1100 square feet into more than 2000 square feet.  It was easy to stash away a lot of things that we really did not need, and the clear lesson was RIGHT THERE.  We only needed a fraction of what we owned, and after four month with only a small amount of our things, I only desperately wished for my lovely vegetable peeler.  (And after this blog post, my mom sent me a great peeler in the mail.  Thanks, Mom!)  This was a golden opportunity!  We should have been very, very discerning about what to keep, but instead, we loaded everything into our new house.  Many of those boxes hadn’t even been opened when we moved again (those same 1000 miles) less than two years later.  A lot of those boxes are still in our basement!

That brings me to this spring.  I started making some important changes in my life that I wrote about here.  I needed to clear my head and my heart.  Around the same time, I read a blog post by my friend, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is many things, but two of her most important roles are homeschooling mom and entrepreneur.  She blogs at www.homeschoolmanager.com, and I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts.  Anyway, she wrote about going from hoarder to minimalist.  Somewhere along the line, Elizabeth recommended the website Becoming Minimalist and specifically, the post called “How to Stage Your Home for Living.”  Big things were happening inside me.  I needed to return to simplicity, and I finally felt ready to make it happen.  I realized that I was one of many people who are looking for ways to reduce STUFF and enjoy a life of simplicity.

On my birthday in June, I wrote this in my journal:  “I’m on a minimalist journey.”  I realize that it sounds totally melodramatic!  (I even cringed a little while typing it.)  But here is how I see it.  A journey can take you anywhere. I set off on this journey with both feet, and I have to keep moving forward to see where the road takes me.  I’m pretty sure this journey isn’t going to bring me to the place of only owning what I can fit in a backpack.  That might be great for some people, but I’m aiming for something far less extreme.  I just want to feel content, spend more time with my kids, and less time cleaning.  I want to see clear, open spaces around me.  I want to own things that I love.  I don’t want my things to own me.

I have had success with birthday resolutions in the past, and I’m particularly excited about this one.  I dove into decluttering immediately after my birthday.  THIS is what sat in front of my house on July 4th weekend:

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And that was just the beginning.  In addition, we’ve donated three enormous bags of clothing to charity.  I have a big box of books that is headed to our local library.  I’ve thrown away about 20 bags of junk since June.  (Note: I deeply regret that I did not recycle more things.  I’m making a commitment to do better at recycling now that my belongings are more manageable.)

So that’s my story so far.  In my next installment, I’ll write about some of the people and resources that inspire my desire to live simply.

Thanks for reading!

 

Project Food Budget — The End

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It’s wrap-up week.  Here are the things that I learned during this project.

  1. Planning matters!  I do usually plan meals, but Project Food Budget required consistency in my meal planning.  If I am going to stick to my budget, I MUST have a plan.  This project has proven what I already knew.
  2. Accountability is everything!  I love this project because someone is watching my menu!  It pushes me to spend carefully and plan creatively.  I like trying new things, but like everyone, I sometimes get into a rut with our family meals.  Sharing my plans with others gives me the incentive to be more creative.
  3. We need planned snacks.  I intentionally plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I often forget snacks.  By the end of the week, my kids are begging for spoons of peanut butter because I didn’t buy enough snacks.  Except for cookies, we don’t buy junk food, so I really need to do some thinking and researching about easy and healthy snacks.  I repeat: EASY.  If you have some favorites, please post them in the comments.
  4. My budget is going to have to grow…maybe soon.  If I’m really, really careful I can meet our $120 budget, but it doesn’t leave much room for fun or trying new things.  And these kids of ours are growing, growing, growing!  This week I will have a TEN year old.  I can’t imagine now much food we’ll need in the future!

Goal: $120          Actual:  $45 Aldi + $79 Shop ‘ n Save = $124  Not bad!

Monday:  Chicken nuggets, sweet potatoes, and mixed veggies

Tuesday:  Faculty Picnic at Cory’s university

Wednesday:  Baked fish and broccoli

Thursday:  Baked ziti and salad

Friday:  Grilled cheese and homemade vegetable soup

Saturday:  Sandwiches, pasta salad, and birthday cake!

Sunday:  Leftover buffet  :)

Blogging Budgeters:  (Or is it Budgeting Bloggers?)

Project Food Budget…quickie version

I am typing this on my mom’s mini-tablet-thingie.  I have limited internet access right now, so this is going to be a quickie.

Goal:  $120.        Actual:  $23 Shop ‘n Save + $50 Giant Eagle ????= $73 for now.

I will have to add in  the rest later.

Please check on the other bloggers listed in my previous food post.

2015 UPDATE

Hi, friends.  In February, I posted my resolutions and goals for 2015.  Half of a year has gone by, and I thought I should give a little update.  I was determined that my goals wouldn’t be forgotten this year, and I’ve been working on them diligently.  If this isn’t of interest to you, simply pass on by.  I understand!  I’ll be back on Tuesday with a Project Food Budget post.

Resolution #1: Be more fun!  I think I’m doing better at this.  I try to say more “yes” and less “no.”  We’ve done some new and interesting activities such as visiting a natural playground and even going to the movies once–a very rare occurrence for me, but it makes my kids SO happy.

Resolution #2: Send more snail mail.  Well, I started out strong, but then I missed a few family birthdays.  (Sorry, guys.) I dropped off of this resolution a little bit, but the last couple of months, I’ve picked up on sending mail again.  It’s fun, and I’m glad that I’ve been intentional about communicating with friends and family outside of digital means.  I love knowing that I’m making someone smile at the mailbox.

Goal #1: I’m declaring 2015 to be THE YEAR OF CLEAN.  We aren’t where we want to be YET, but we’ve made wonderful progress!  This makes me so happy!  Now, if you stop by my house, you will find a mess.  Definitely.  We are deep in the decluttering, organizing process, and that means that piles have been created and disorder reigns, but I remind myself that this is temporary.  Right now, we are working on the basement and ALL of our closets.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t simply keep on tidying like I’ve always done.  It was time to do an overhaul and create clean, simple spaces all over our home.  In late spring, I started researching minimalism and simple living.  I don’t think I could ever be a strict minimalist, but the idea of having only what I truly need and love appeals to me.  On my birthday in June, I promised myself that I would work toward a more minimalist life and living space.  (I like “birthday resolutions,” and you will see below how that has worked for me in the past)  As of July 4, we had disposed of 12 large garbage bags of stuff, and we have a growing box of donations to give to our local shelter.  There have been many more bags in the last month, but I lost count!  “Simplicity” has been a theme in my life and on my blog for many years; however, I had definitely strayed from the concept.  I’m excited to be returning to living my values.

Goal #2: I will return to playing the violin. While I’ve definitely played more in 2015 than I did in 2014, I’m not really keeping up with this goal.  I keep my violin out in plain view so that I can try to catch a minute here and there, but I hope that I can pick up my study this fall.

Goal #3: I will work on the DONA (Doulas of North America) reading list, and I will register for a doula certification workshop) through a recognized certification agency (TBD).  Yes!!!!  I’m thrilled to report that my personal study of the reading list has been moving along beautifully.  I adore every book I’ve read, and each week, I feel more prepared for a career as a professional doula.  More importantly, I am enrolled for doula training in September with ProDoula, and I am excited to make my dream happen.  When I announced my goals in February I wrote, “I’m still not certain how or when a doula business will fit into my family life, but on my birthday in 2014, I made a promise to myself to pursue certification in earnest.”  We’ve been working on having my husband respond to the baby (19 months old now!) when he gets up in the night, and Cory has been able to put him to bed, too.  The little guy isn’t night weaned, but he is willing to accept Daddy instead of Mommy (although a bit hesitantly), so we’ve decided that we are in a good place for me to begin taking clients with due dates beyond my training.

Goal #4: I will take my blog seriously!  Have you noticed that you’ve been hearing more from me?  My blogging pace isn’t where I would like it to be, but I’m so happy with the progress that I’ve made.  Project Food Budget has been especially helpful in keeping me motivated.

So, that’s the update.  Blessings to all!

~*~*~*  Erica  *~*~*~

Project Food Budget (my week 5)

First, an update for last week.  I’m not quite sure how to count last week’s food money.  We were visiting my sister’s family over the weekend, and we contributed to the buying and preparing of some of the meals (the least we could do to help after a new baby!).  We also had pizza out, and there was a fun little ice cream trip.  So…I’m going to say that we were at $135 for the week, and that only works out if I pull some funds from our “fun” budget.  Since A LOT of good fun was had by all, I think this is a fair exchange.

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Goal:  $120         Actual: $52 at Aldi + $31 at Wal*Mart + $33 at Moe’s = $116

Yippee!  I am really excited about being under budget.  Moe’s was a splurge–a really fun splurge.  On top of that, I have a complete menu this week with some really tasty things.  As my hubby headed out the door with my list, I was nervous about the money he might spend.  I fully expected to be over our budget since the only thing coming from the freezer is the steak, and the zucchini came from my in-laws’ garden.  Cory hasn’t done the shopping much since I started this project (because I’m being a control freak about it), but generally, he does our grocery shopping after work.  This was an important test, and it went SO well.

This week’s dinner menu looks like this:

Monday:  Out at Moe’s (one of my favorites!)

Tuesday:  Pork chops on the grill and zucchini bake

Wednesday:  Brats on the grill and veggie pasta salad

Thursday:  Veggie calzones

Friday:  Steak on the grill and quinoa salad

Saturday:  Chicken breasts and pickled beet salad

Sunday:  Creamy chicken tacos in the crock pot with corn-on-the-cob

Please take a moment to visit my fellow food budgeters.  I’ve really enjoyed exploring these blogs, and I definitely have some new favorites to visit even after this project has come to an end.

Project Food Budget (a smidge late)

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Good morning, friends.  Yesterday simply did not allow for blogging, but here I am with my shopping news for the week.  This week is atypical because we are doing some traveling.  I’m sure that I am going to have to add some food costs after the weekend.  Nonetheless, it was exciting to be UNDER BUDGET!

Goal: $120          Actual: $88 at Wal*Mart

I had a few things in the freezer, so I didn’t have to buy meat this week.  That helped a lot.  I did include my multivitamins (kids’ next week).  I also bought some extra snacks for a long car ride and ingredients to do some baking.  I had to stock up on both all-purpose unbleached flour and whole wheat flour.  I hate shopping at Wal*Mart.  I really, really, do.  I went at 8 o’clock in the morning, and it was still crazy busy.  BUT…I kinda had to.  Aldi doesn’t seem to carry whole wheat flour, and I didn’t have time for two trips, and my only shopping opportunity (without four kids in tow) was early Tuesday morning before Aldi even opened.  So…off to the craziness that is Wal*Mart.

Here’s the short menu:

Monday:  Unexpected dinner at Grandma’s house (I had an English muffin at home!)

Tuesday:  Chicken stir-fry with rice

Wednesday:  Fish tacos with mixed veggies

Thursday:  Leftovers and maybe a treat out

Weekend:  ???????

Let’s see how the other bloggers did:

Project Food Budget : Q&A (Week 3, Week 8 official)

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Hi, friendly readers.  I’m back with another installment of Project Food Budget.  I had a few great questions from readers concerning our food budget, and I thought I would take some time to answer them here.

1.  Do you count cleaning supplies in your grocery budget?

The short answer is no, but it is a little more complicated than that.  Since the last time I did Project Food Budget, I began making my own cleaning products.  I have a multipurpose cleaner, a disinfectant, and a window cleaner.  The ingredients for these cleaners are simple household items that I do include in my grocery costs.  They are essentially food products anyway.  They include water, vinegar, baking soda, sometimes lemon, tea tree oil, and a little dish soap.  The ingredients are extremely inexpensive.  They are not affecting my budget much at all.  However, every now and then, I like to buy Method brand window cleaner.  I love the mint scent.  It smells so clean and fresh, and I like to “treat myself” to one every now and then.  I buy it at Target, and I do not consider that in my food budget.  Paper towels and toilet paper tend to get scooped up into the general food budget because I buy them at Aldi when I’m doing my grocery shopping.

2.  What about diapers?

No, I don’t include diapers in my food budget.  Again, I buy diapers at Target when I’m not grocery shopping, so it is easy to not include them in my total.  Plus, they are expensive and would blow my budget.  Because this project is focused on food expenses, diapers would skew my numbers.  One last note on this topic– we use cloth diapers about 75% of the time.  When we are out and about, I tend to reach for a disposable diaper. I just prefer not to carry around a poopy diaper in my bag when I’m out all day or traveling.  We also use disposables over night (unless we run out).  Cloth diapers are an investment, but they do save you money in the long run.  We’ve used them for 3 of our 4 kids, and many of those first diapers are still being used by Baby #4.  Now that’s savings.

3.  Do you only include suppers in your food budget?  This is a really important question!  When I got this question from one of my very loyal readers, I realized that my posts definitely made it look like I was keeping a tally of dinner costs only.  Oops.  No, my goal and total expenses include suppers, lunches, breakfasts, and snacks.  I only list the suppers because our lunches and breakfasts are rather a la carte affairs.  We don’t all eat the same thing at the same time.  Typical breakfasts for us are eggs, oatmeal (with various toppings), English muffins, breakfast sandwiches on English muffins or bagels, bagels with cream cheese, sometimes cold cereal, fruit, or yogurt.  Lunches are often sandwiches–tuna or peanut butter or egg salad or sometimes turkey.  We like hummus, raw veggies and fruit.  Sometimes I make soup or grilled cheese.  Just simple things.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Here are my stats for the week:

Goal: $120         Actual: $18 at Giant Eagle + $110 at Aldi = $128  (Edit:  Messed up the math.)

I’m a little bummed that I went over again.  On to next week!  Let’s see how my blog friends did.