Category Archives: How It Works

How it Works: Moving

Awhile back, Ronnica discussed how to move like a minimalist.

Originally, I intended this post to piggyback on that very topic, but as I prepared this, it occurred to me that moving a house–and a household–is a different animal than that which Ronnica discussed.  This particular move is also different in many other areas, including the ultimate destination and the reasons for the move.

To that end, here are a few tips and tricks that have proven useful to me during the past two weeks of moving preparation.  While I think many of us would like to stay where we are at, should you find yourself at the point of a major move, perhaps these tips and Ronnica’s will help you get started on your next chapter.

After a thorough purging, my tiny closet has a lot less that needs to be packed!
After a thorough purging, my tiny closet has a lot less that needs to be packed!

1.  Purge

This isn’t all that dissimilar to what Ronnica discussed in her minimalist moving post, and for good reason:  all moves have the added benefit of providing a chance at a clean, uncluttered slate.  When in doubt, throw it out (or donate it)!

2.  Consider your packing options.

For all the stress this move is causing me, I really have to say that Riley’s new employer is making things as easy on our family as one could possibly hope for.  I don’t even have to pack–in fact, it is discouraged.  How fortunate are we?!

This is obviously an anomaly in the moving world, so it is helpful to consider what moving options are available.  Are you going to pack up everything yourself, or will you have help? How will you transport your belongings?  The farther you can plan things out, the less stressful (and better budgeted) things will be.  Even if you have the benefit of packers AND movers at your disposal, it is helpful to be well-versed in the rules and protocol of how such an operation works.

3.  Prepare your current home for departure.

Although I have moved quite a bit before now, this is my first experience with selling a house.  It goes on the market today (need a house?), and is as ready as it can ever be.  It is important to take into account any extra expenses preparing a house for selling–in our case, a lot of paint and cleaning supplies were the primary expenses, but depending on your case, it may involve more or less preparation.

I would also encourage you to implement as many professionals as possible in the process, from realtors and stagers, to professional photographers and dog caretakers–all of which we have employed in this process.  The amount of home selling know-how I have can fit into a thimble, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Use the gifts and talents of others to give your home the best chance for quickly selling at a good price–something I hope happens in our case very soon!

4.  Prepare your new home for arrival.  

We are in the midst of this one, since 1) Riley has not yet arrived in Texas, and 2) we don’t yet know where exactly we are going to settle permanently.  That shouldn’t stop us (well, specifically me) from preparing my heart and mind for the new home.  In my case, I have been researching towns that fit all our criteria, looking at church and school options, browsing attractions, and even reading up on the history of Texas.  Knowledge is power!

What moving tips do you have?

How It Works: Saving on Electricity

energy usage chartI don’t spend much on electricity. Since I moved to Colorado, I’ve not used more than $30 worth of electricity in any given month. While I’d love to have solar panels one day and get that down to $0, I’ll continue to seek to cut my energy use for the sake of both my wallet and the environment.

This is how I’ve kept my electricity bill low:

1. Trade out any provided light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.

In the last 2 apartments that I have had, I have unscrewed existing light bulbs and replaced them with my own CFLs. Then, when it’s time to move, I just switch them back.

I have saved particularly in the bathroom, where regular CFLs replace inefficient vanity bulbs. When you do this, make sure you do the math: you probably don’t need to fill every light socket, as a 26W CFL gives off the equivalent light to an 100W traditional bulb.

If you’re scared of CFLs, jump straight to LEDs. I’ll eventually replace my bulbs with LEDs, but I’ve never had one burn out yet.

2. Use natural light, whenever possible.

I do my best to do my chores during the day, so I don’t have to use any artificial light. A big part of this is considering a home’s sunniness when you are choosing where to live.

3. Turn things off when they’re not in use.

This is an obvious one that we don’t do enough. For me, this includes turning off the microwave clock display, flipping off my power strip when I leave the house and not using more lights than I absolutely need.

I know it’s weird, but I just don’t have lights on in my house, unless I absolutely need them. If I’m sitting in my “spot”, I really only need light when I’m reading. I have a night light in my bathroom, which means I only have to turn on those lights when I’m showering.

4. Store your emergency water in the fridge.

If your fridge isn’t always full, store a few gallons of water in the back somewhere. The US government recommends storing 3 gallons of water per person for emergencies. To save money (as well as space), mine are in the fridge.

Liquid holds it’s temperature better than air does, so my fridge heats up less every time I open its door than if I did not have that water in there.

I’m sure you could do the same with a freezer, if you had the space there. Just make sure you pour out some of the water so that it does not expand out the top as it freezes.

5. Designate a baking day.

I do all my baking and the majority of my cooking in one day. By baking and cooking things in my oven back to back, I save energy by not having to warm up my oven each time.

What ways have you found to save electricity?

How It Works: Grow Light Frame for Indoor Gardening

grow light frameAs I shared in my garden plan, I am growing tomatoes and peppers from seed this year. While I have a sunny living room, I knew the 3-4 hours of direct light would not be enough for my growing seedlings. I am supplementing natural light with grow lights.

When it came to deciding how to set up grow lights, I wanted a setup that would be:

  1. Economical
  2. Efficient
  3. Portable/flexible

I think I’ve found the setup that meets these criteria.

After research, I decided that a PVC light frame would be the best for my purposes. I mostly followed the tutorial I found on My Square Foot Garden. I made some adjustments, which you can find in my directions below.

1. I measured my space to determine what size frame I wanted. I did not alter the original directions in this respect as it was just the right size for my living room.

2. I gathered my materials. I ended up going with 3/4″ PVC pipe and fittings as they didn’t have everything I needed in 1″ size. I bought one 10′ pipe and cut it into the four 5″ pieces, two 24″ pieces and one 52″ pieces that were recommended.  Home Depot had a cutting station with a hacksaw I could use to measure and cut easily. It was also much easier to haul the pieces home than a 10′ pipe.

In addition to the pipe pieces, you will need 2 Ts, 2 90-degree elbows and 4 caps.

IMG_2588

3. I snapped everything together. This took me less than 10 minutes. No need to use glue: it will stay all together. Plus, this makes it easy to take down and store when I don’t need it.

PVC light frame

How much this setup cost me:

3/4″ PVC and fittings to make the  frame: $7.34
2 LED grow lights: $22.99 each
2 clamp lamps: $9.49 each
Total: $72.30

tomato seedlings
My tomato seedlings are starting to really grow. This is 4 weeks after planting.

This setup definitely reaches my goals I outlined above. The LED lights provides just the wavelengths that the plants can use. At 12 watts each, it would cost me $1.50/month to run these full time. Totally reasonable.

Since they’re LED, they also will last a long time: over 5 years of continuous use. I’m sure I’ll add more lights to it in the future, but for now sliding my two lamps from side to side helps me ensure my seedlings get 12-18 hours of light a day.

The bonus of starting so much from seed this year is that I get to enjoy gardening for a larger part of the year.

How it Works: Family Meals

10538295175_1440a7fcac_zTake a moment and consider what gifts you have in your life.

I would be willing to bet that, for many of you, family and friends top the list of gifts in your life.  The question then becomes:  How can we nurture that gift of relationships?

In our house, one of the ways we seek to nurture the gift of family (and friends) is through family meals.  Studies have proven time and again the benefit of regular family dinners; one would be hard-pressed to find proof that family dinners are a waste of time.

We have incorporated family meals into our life for quite some time now.  With that in mind, here are a few key traits of our family meal experience.  Note:  While I reference “family” dinners, I see no reason why friends cannot be considered family too.  If you have no family nearby, why not consider a friend dinner?

1.  It isn’t always dinner.  Since various times of the year are very busy in Riley’s line of work, there are times when supper as family mealtime simply isn’t feasible because he isn’t home until long after the kids are in bed.  The solution:  family breakfasts.

I haven’t seen a study yet that says family meals have to be supper to be beneficial.  We still get the connection and conversation that is essential to nurturing family relationships–we just get it at 7 a.m. instead of in the evening. Tasty, filling breakfasts are also a special way to begin the day!

2.  No toys (electronic or otherwise) at the table.  Because distractions come in many forms.  This rule applies to adults and kids alike–no TV, no phones, no computers, no stuffed animals…just you and your family.

3.  Teachable moments are many.  We have been able to use family mealtimes to teach our kids basic manners–both the “how” and the “why” of table manners are important!  We have started small (sitting on our bottoms for a few minutes) and worked our way up to more complex manners (passing condiments, chewing with mouths closed, etc.).

4.  Everyone gets a chance to chime in.  Usually we start meals with a prayer, and then each person is asked how their day was, and what their favorite part of the day was.  Questions should not be limited to just these, however–this site has some great conversation starters.

Family mealtime is one aspect of our life that I aim to continue as our family matures.  It’s a special time that is treasured by all of us, and one I cannot recommend highly enough!

Photo by Didriks

How it Works: Gratitude Journal

From time to time, it can be all too easy for me to forget just how many gifts I have been given.  This goes beyond the basic needs of living, such as shelter, food and clothing–I find that I am apt to take for granted all of the other amazing people and things in my life.

Take, for instance, a recent post in my gratitude journal.  It had been a rather rough day, and a cursory overview of my day did not yield much to be thankful for…initially.  (Some days are like that, you know?)  But after further reflection, it occurred to me that, if not for my amazing neighbors, I would not have made it through the day as unscathed as I did.

Using my gratitude journal to reflect reminded me once again of the gifts I have been given.

The idea of a gratitude journal is  not a new one; in fact, they have been around for quite some time.  And they certainly don’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy.  One need look no further than my own gratitude journal to see how informal they can be (mine is a plain black notebook that also doubles as a “journal” journal):

a54cb553-8afa-409c-8d16-62df4fbbf820

I first became acquainted with the idea of “gratitude journals” in high school, but nothing about them actually stuck until much later…like Fall 2015 later.  It was around that time that I began to hear more and more about the benefits of cultivating a spirit of gratitude, and how a gratitude journal (that is, making an actual list of things one is grateful for on a regular basis) assists in changing one’s perspective to a perspective of gratefulness and positive outlook.

What started out as a periodic mental list of things to be grateful for has now become  something a little more–I find myself jotting down things I am grateful for fairly regularly (like four to five times a week).

The fact that I, a recovering realist/pessimist, gave this a shot, and am still working on it, says a lot about this practice, and it is something I recommend trying, even if (especially if!) you are going through a challenging time.  It is a tangible reminder of all we have been given.

What are you grateful for today?

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

A few months have gone by since our last updates, so here’s updates on things we’ve talked about previously:

Ronnica’s Updates

How I Paid Off $10,678.28 in 8 Months

It’s been over 4 months since I got out of debt. The cool thing about not having a mortgage is that I’m completely debt free.

Since then, I’ve been focusing hard on building emergency savings and adding to my retirement account. To balance my two goals, I’ve decided to put 20% of my savings towards retirement (my 401k contributions are handled separately).

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

This is the first summer that I’ve gone completely without air conditioning. I’ve become unapologetic about it: if someone is at my house I’ll give them full control over the fans, but do not turn on the air. While it doesn’t get as hot here in Colorado as in anywhere I have lived, it has regularly gotten into the lower to mid-90s.

Yes, I’ve sweat a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (regular showers are a must).

Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).
Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).

Ronnica’s Garden Plan

Sadly, this has been my least productive garden, apart from the year I stopped watering due to anemia-caused exhaustion.

The primary cause was the cold and rainy weather we had for most of May. I also tried a few new-to-me varieties that I’m not sure did as well as I would have liked.

The great thing about gardening, though, is that every year is a learning opportunity. I’m going to take what I’ve learned to make better choices next year.

And there’s always my winter garden (details to come).

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

Just a couple of months after writing this post, an opportunity to give my time presented itself:  serving on the pastoral call committee of our church.

Although we have only met a few times so far, and there is a good chunk of time I have to commit (a few hours a month for meetings and ultimately interviewing potential candidates to serve as our pastor), it is a volunteer position that is well-aligned to my gifts, one that is fairly flexible with our family schedule, and most importantly, is vital to the future of our congregation.  It’s a great opportunity!

Grocery Shopping

It has been six months since I first posted about my grocery shopping method (one word:  methodical).

Since that time, a lot has changed–for starters, the national egg shortage has resulted in eggs no longer being the least expensive item in my cart.  I have also lightened up quite a bit in my grocery shopping prep, because where I get most of our food now (Aldi) doesn’t accept coupons, so that actually saves me time…but also because I’ve become a bit lazy.

Our grocery bill has also crept upwards, due in part to a sales tax increase and cost of food steadily increasing, but also due to the aforementioned lackadaisical attitude.  Since grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to help or hinder a family budget, I have been working on reducing our grocery bill.  Stay tuned later this month for how that went.

Fall Purge

A quick look at the calendar tells me that, yes, fall is indeed upon us!  Since Riley has started working from home several days a week, this has forced us to adopt a whole new way of looking at cleaning and organization; with no home office, we have had to turn “the dungeon” into a multipurpose area.

That has meant–you guessed it–a whole lot of purging.

It’s a work in progress.  But it definitely doesn’t look like this anymore…

unnamed (5)

…and for that I am very grateful.

How it Works: Time Management

It’s no secret that time management is a work in progress for me.  I know that through prioritization and better use of the gift of time, I should theoretically be able to accomplish everything I need to on a daily basis.

And yet…I still find myself struggling to stay “on task”–something that is, arguably, a bit difficult when you don’t work in a traditional work setting (with a manager, task lists, etc.); taking the initiative to get things done on your own can be a bit of struggle for some (*raises hand*).  Odious tasks may sit on your list, playing a distant second to activities like social media or TV (hello folding laundry)  Since welcoming our two children, I have become much better at managing my time, but still have  ways to go.

If you struggle with time management as well, here are three  things I have found helpful to keep in mind.  I hope they help you, too!

1.  Take advantage of your “peak time.”  For some, mornings may be the best time to tick things off a to-do list.  For others, late at night may be the optimal time.  Be you an early bird or a night owl, or something in between, chances are good you know when you function best–your “peak time.”

I’ve found I accomplish more to-do list items early in the morning, before the kids are awake.  I am also able to do things after the kiddos are in bed, but I am usually tired myself at that point, so try to ensure I get things that require optimal brain function done early in the day.

2.  Make a list.  This isn’t something that only Type A personalities do–it’s something most of us can benefit from.  I prefer the old-fashioned way of list-making:  I use a planner and a pen.  My to-do list for the day is usually a visual disaster; the shorthand alone makes my husband cringe, and at some point I may utilize an electronic list method, but for now, if it ain’t broke…

unnamed (34)

Do all of the items get crossed off each day?  No.  It’s more of a list of goals, but when I have them written down, I’m more likely to accomplish them all.  Lists also make #3 easier…

3.  Prioritize reasonably…and practice grace.  That dental appointment you have on Tuesday will probably take (SHOULD take) priority over, say, finishing up a library book due next week.  Figure out what absolutely must get done, and make it happen.  At the same time though, give yourself a bit of grace if you don’t finish everything.  It’s okay.  Dust yourself off when those days come (and they will…a lot) and start fresh tomorrow.

…with a new list!

And on our list next week is a little break.  We’ll be back again with fresh posts the week after next.  Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!

How it Works: Selling Stuff

I once had an English teacher who said one of the worst words a writer could use was the word “stuff.”  (The other one, in case you were wondering, was “things.”)

That said, “stuff” is going to be discussed at length in this post, because one of the easiest ways to live out minimalist values and make a little extra money (to build up an emergency fund or pay off that pesky debt) is to sell “stuff.”

Of course, one could always sell body “things”, such as plasma, but since I have no experience in that arena, let’s talk instead about something I have actual experience with:  clearing out clutter and getting cash for it.

Three of the more lucrative household items I have found to clear the most room AND give the most money are clothing, books and paper products, and “dust collectors”–also known as knick knacks, tchotchkes, and trinkets.

 20150301_2222531.  Clothing.  One of the biggest things to remember about selling clothing is that if you wouldn’t buy it, then neither will a secondhand clothing store.  Typically stores that buy clothing want on-trend, good quality clothing; depending on where you are selling, brand names will matter.  My experience has been they will pay based on what is in their current stock; if they have a glut of shirts, for example, then they won’t pay top dollar for yours, if they take them at all.  Selling a few clothes at Plato’s Closet yielded us around $50, but again, this can vary.  Some stores will also offer you store credit in lieu of cash.

2.  Books and Paper Products.  My first experience selling books was in college, where I hoped I would get a little money back for textbooks that may (or may not) have seen a great deal of use during the semester.  I have continued to sell books and other items periodically, especially if I happen to have duplicates of a book, puzzle, or calendar.  Selling books is similar to selling clothing, as far as requirements are concerned.  Quality books, puzzles, and the like can be sold online or in a traditional used book store, with cash back varying widely.  I confess I never make huge amounts of money doing this, but it’s nice to clear off my bookshelves and get a bit of money for a special treat!

unnamed (33)
An example of the tschotskes that made the cut.

3.  Knick-knacks.  In my mind this is the trickiest of the three:  how do you know what is best to donate to a thrift store and what is worth the time to try and sell?  I’ve found that if an item is rare or a collectible, it is obviously worth the time to try to sell (usually an online venue is best), but so too is the item that would appeal to a certain population.  I used to collect dog figurines before I realized what a chore dusting them really was.  I sold them online to people (typically fans of the dog breed depicted in the statue) who would enjoy and appreciate them more than I was.  Depending on the item, this can yield a good chunk of change.

What “stuff” have you sold?  What was your experience like?

How it Works: Kill-A-Watt

We talk a lot on here about going green and saving green–both important elements of stewardship (which is obviously the theme of this blog).

So today, I want to introduce you to a nifty tool to help in this ongoing endeavor of going green and saving green.  I happened across the Kill-A-Watt awhile ago at our local library, of all places.

A device that combines two of my passions (green living and being thrifty)?  Color me intrigued.  I checked it out the day I learned about it.

unnamed (31)

The premise behind this device is to plug your electronic items into it for a period of time (a minimum of two minutes and a maximum of 24 hours per appliance).  After entering in your utility rate (as found on your electric bill), you use your electronic doodad like you usually would, except it is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt.  The longer the appliance is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt, the more accurate the reading.

By the time you are done, you have a better idea of not only how much energy your device or appliance utilizes, but also how much each item costs you to use.

My findings haven’t been too staggering or surprising; they have basically confirmed that which I already knew:  phantom energy is a real thing, bigger appliances use more energy than “little” ones, and good golly, we use a lot of electricity in this house!

Even though it may not reveal anything too especially earth-shattering, the Kill-A-Watt is a fun gadget to use, and adds actual dollars to your electronic devices.  Check it out!

How it Works: Fair Trade

“Fair trade” seems to be all the rage lately, but if you are like me, that doesn’t necessarily mean a full understanding of the term.

I first became acquainted with fair trade through our church, which sold a few fair trade items once a month when we first joined.  Since this was B.C. (Before Children), I didn’t see a need for coffee.  Plus, the goods seemed grossly overpriced, so I didn’t pay much attention and certainly never bothered to buy anything.

As seems to be my trend, fast forward a few years and not only do I have a huge appreciation for the dark caffeinated beverage (splash of milk and dash of coconut oil in mine, please!), but I also have become more interested in the idea of fair trade.

So I decided to do a little research.

According to the simple definition found at Lutheran World Relief, “fair trade” is just “a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade.”

Seems “fair”-ly simple (sorry, couldn’t resist!).  Help farmers earn a living wage, help strengthen communities (fair trade policies ensure that labor laws are more closely adhered to, and provide an opportunity for farmers to invest in their communities), and help the environment (through sustainable practices encouraged by fair trade), all while I get my daily dose of caffeine?

Yes please.

And did you know that the term fair trade applies to more than just coffee?  It can apply to everything from chocolate to tea, and–get this!–eco-palms for Palm Sunday services.  Impressive!

I love my coffee, but I also love to put my values in action, and fair trade is a good way to do that.  It may be more expensive, but considering all that it benefits, it seems like a relatively simple way to do my part.