Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: December 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Seven Ideas for a Simpler Holiday

HappyHolidays - MinimalistinDC

No matter what you celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or something else – enjoy this holiday season. This blogger is going to get some much-needed rest and relaxation through the end of the year and will pick up writing again in 2015.

This is a crazy season with, traditionally, a lot of expenses and obligations, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some ideas to promote a happier, simpler holiday without breaking the bank or running around like mad.

Seven Ideas for a Simpler Holiday

  1. Visit family or friends – Go see the people you really care about. Not the ones you feel obligated to see, but the people you truly miss and enjoy. Don’t plan any specific activities, just visit and let the mood of the day determine what to do.
  2. Read your kids a book – I just began Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my oldest daughter and we both love it. Dust off your favorite childhood read and share it.
  3. Drink a hot beverage by the fire – I’ve just begun to realize why so many cultures love hot tea. Tea, hot chocolate, and hot cider are just a few of the beverages that take a hectic day and make it tranquil. Snuggle up and enjoy!
  4. Work out – Get a jumpstart on the rest of the world’s resolutions. Exercise is a mood and energy booster. If you feel run down by your activities or hit a sugar low, a short run, swim, game of tennis, or other activity is a quick mood-enhancer.
  5. Breathe – In the middle of your most hectic holiday tradition, close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Reap the relaxation rewards.
  6. Re-gift a present – We all get things at Christmas that we don’t need. Find someone who does need it and brighten their day.
  7. Say No – Pick one thing on your calendar or to do list and just say no. It’s a fantastic habit to start and you can start it with one “No”.

14-Week Real Food Challenge

100 Days of Real Food

One of the blogs I’ve grown to love is Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food. What started as a 100-day challenge for her family continued with another hundred days and another until eating the foods we were naturally meant to eat became…normal.

I mentioned during my November Food Challenge, that I love Michael Pollan‘s books and ideas, which can be summarized in his advice from In Defense of Food: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. In this season of excess and preparation for resolutions, I’ve thought many times about finally changing my diet — for good. The more I read, think, and eat, the more I am convinced that a proper diet will not only make you feel great on a daily basis, but will ward off many of the common (and sometimes fatal) diseases that tend to strike in mid-to-late life. Now that I’ve got young children at home, it’s more important than ever that I set the right example and set them up to be happy, healthy humans for life.

Real Food Challenge

100 Days of Real Food has a new e-program called the “100 Days of Real Food” Mini-Pledge Program and it aims to help you cut out processed foods in 14 weeks. Each week, Leake will send out a small challenge that you pledge to keep for 7 days. For example: “Eat two different fruits or vegetables each meal” or “Listen to your internal cues and stop when you feel full”. They all build up to the final challenge, which is “don’t eat any packaged foods with more than five ingredients”.

Since I was already thinking about how to start my own real food challenge, I signed up immediately (thanks to my friend, Maureen, for the link)! I’m excited to try this and form some better eating habits.  Would anyone like to join me?

It’s the perfect side challenge for my minimalist project, which I already consider to be a wildly successful life change.  Here’s to a happier, healthier 2015 and beyond!

90 Clutter Free Gifts from the Minimalist Mom

This list of 90 clutter free gifts, written by Rachel Jonat (the Minimalist Mom) was sitting in my inbox today and I LOVE it. It is now bookmarked on my computer. The great thing about it is that these aren’t just ideas for the minimalists in your life, these are great ideas for anyone.  From wine to movie tickets to an Amazon gift card you can use these for any occasion.  Check it out!

Why I Won’t Switch Internet Providers (Despite Cheaper Options)

I was elated last week to discover that if I switched from Verizon FiOS to Cox that I would save $18/month and increase my internet upload speeds by 25 Mbps. We were very happy with Verizon, but $18 is quite a bit and not something I could pass up. So, I called Verizon and asked if they could lower our current price. They couldn’t, so I put in an order to cancel our service. Nothing personal, it’s just business.

Before I did that, I talked directly with a live chat agent at Cox and nailed down exactly how much the taxes and fees for their service would be. I was told there was a $30 self-setup fee and a $7/month modem rental. Great! I read some reviews. Both Verizon and Cox are universally hated, so I gave myself permission to proceed.

I won't switch internet providers, even though they all make me feel claustrophobic like this photo.

After canceling Verizon, I went back to the Cox website to sign-up. Everything was in order, except that the modem price was now $10 instead of $7. Again, I live chatted and found out that in my area, the single-band modem ($7) is unavailable, but I might be able to go to the store and procure one. Fine, so I called the number listed for the store and got the main, centralized Cox answering system. Instead of the option to speak with a person, they have an answering machine. That’s it?! I left a message and waited. My call was supposed to be returned by the next business day. Several days passed and I heard nothing. So, I called again and got the same answering system.

By this point, I had a bad feeling that this would be cable provider hell all over again. The incredibly long list of why I won’t use Comcast ever again even if they’re the last provider on earth deserves its very own post sometime. However, service is something that Verizon FiOS actually does well. A real person always answers and there is no transferring between departments.

I decided the headache that I’m getting is probably just the tip of the iceberg and if it’s this hard to become a customer, I can’t imagine what it would be like being one. I called Verizon and canceled my service cancellation…and I won’t look back. I won’t switch internet providers this year. I’ll find other ways to save money instead.

Remove Private Mortgage Insurance

New House

When we bought our house two years ago, the rates were low, house prices in the DC area were rising and we had a growing family.

Housing in DC is notoriously expensive. While house-hunting, we searched for a long time, through many a terrible neighborhood to find the perfect single family home in the low $400s. This is far more than I ever expected to pay for housing. Yet, it’s amazing how quickly your relative sense of how much something should cost is warped after you move to the DC area.

I’m very aware that most minimalists would urge me to downsize, but we absolutely LOVE our house, neighbors, and school system. Plus, in 2.5 years, the prices have risen so much that if we wanted to downsize, we’d have to move farther away and probably pay more. We’ll be staying put.

Two years ago, we took a calculated risk. We decided to put less than 20% down to secure a place to live in a growing market with low interest rates. I believe this strategy will pay off, but we’re more than ready to get rid of the Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on our home.

PMI is the extra money you pay to cover the risk that you default on your home loan if you don’t put down 20%. It doesn’t benefit you in any way and you’ll never see a return on investment. The only thing it allows you to do is buy a house with less up-front money.

In general, you can remove private mortgage insurance from your home loan once you owe less than 80% of the lower value between your house’s purchase price and what it appraises at now. This means that we would have to pay another $45K against the original purchase price before we’re able to remove the PMI, even though our house is worth far more than the original price today. Without paying extra principle each month, that would take us another five years and over $16,000 in PMI alone.

Our other option is to refinance the loan. A new appraisal is done and if the house comes in at a high enough value, the new loan won’t carry PMI. Up-front costs are around $2000 and the rates are about the same (actually slightly lower) as our original home loan. The risk is that the appraisal won’t quite be high enough and we still have to carry PMI. Even if that happens, the time horizon we’ll have to pay PMI with a new loan is much shorter.

I’m not quite sure whether to refinance now while the rates are low and risk continual PMI, or wait until our house is definitely worth enough to remove the PMI and risk a higher interest rate.

What would you do? Would you refinance now, even if it meant possibly paying PMI for a little while longer, or would you wait to refinance (not knowing what the future rates will be) until you can remove the PMI completely?

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