Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: April 2015

A Usable Garage (Weekend Project)

There are two places I didn’t get to in my first round of de-owning: the garage and the cars. I specifically saved these two for warmer months and last weekend we were treated to perfect weather.

Project: Clean & organize the garage

Time Needed: An afternoon to a full weekend (depending on the size and junk-density of your garage).

Prep: Clear your driveway so it can be a staging area, grab several garbage bags, and have a push broom ready. Check with your garbage collector on what they’ll collect from the curb.

Like many Americans, our one-car garage (a luxury in our area) is so full of junk that it doesn’t have enough space for a car. We have bikes, a wagon, lawn mowers (yes, multiple lawn mowers), junk from two moves ago, giant old bags of grass seed, all manner of car-washing equipment and some grungy old tables, one of which is attached to the wall somehow. In the nearly three years we’ve lived in our house, I have never, ever cleaned the garage, except for a couple of sweeps with our push broom. There is a garage attic storage area that we’ve never explored. The only thing I knew was up there were two raccoon traps that the old owner used when raccoons wandered into the house via (thankfully removed) cat doors.

I really was motivated by the beautiful day. Here was a perfect activity that would keep me outside for hours and would have long-term benefits for the entire family.

The garage went from this…

garage before de-owning

…to this (these tables are fully detached on their way out)!

garage after de-owning

We ended up with a pile of garbage and a “maybe someone might want this” pile that included an old push mower and the raccoon traps. It’s amazing how much of the items we don’t use in the garage are really just pure junk. The best part is that now the garage is a room that I really want to use. We’ve already set-up shop painting new doors for our bedrooms. There is enough room for a car to fit (when we move the tables and doors) and I know exactly where everything is. I probably breathed in far more dust than I did in five years living in Arizona, but unless I contract hantavirus, it was completely worth it.

Good-Bye Garage Garbage!

Good-Bye Garage Garbage!

In fact, if this weekend will be just as nice as last weekend. I think I’m ready to start Round 2!

Have you cleaned out the garage recently? What did you throw out?

Why I Love the Library

Library BookWhen I first bought my Kindle, I used it all the time. I could have most books delivered in a matter of seconds and could take a dozen of them with me on vacation (or on my lengthy commute) by carrying something that was less than the size and weight of one typical book. I still think this is pretty amazing.

However, my Kindle got me into the habit of buying books whenever I needed one. I wouldn’t even look anywhere else; I would just buy.

Years later we had kids and that reminded me of a wonderful pastime from my own childhood: our family’s weekly trips to the library. Kids go through so many books that there’s no way you can pay for them all. Suddenly, instead of being a forgotten building that I never used, the library became a treasure trove of not only books, but quality time spent with my children. When money started to feel tight after we moved to DC, my habit of spending money on my Kindle was one of the first to go. I used to spend at least $20 a month on books, but now I only make a Kindle purchase when I absolutely have to and I almost never buy a regular, physical book.

Why I Love the Library

  1. It’s free. Enough said.
  2. Book delivery: Large library systems (like ours in Fairfax County, VA) have many branches and will deliver the book we want to our local branch. It takes a few days, but it saves you lots of time.
  3. Holds: Hold requests allow you to get in line for a book and be notified when it’s available. Then, you can just pop into the library, grab the book, and pop out again. Yes, you do have to wait for popular books, but that just gives you time to finish the stack you already have.
  4. Quality Time: Most libraries have a great children’s section with comfy chairs and small tables. My kids can spend a lot of time there.
  5. Reading programs: Libraries put on great, free programs all the time. It’s the perfect way to entertain your kids on a cold winter day.
  6. Requests: Many libraries let you request books they don’t have. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll get them, if you can wait, this is a nice alternative to buying the book.
  7. Donations: Libraries also accept donations! You can bring your stacks of unused books to the library and write them off on your taxes. We traded in at least 30 books last year for an estimated tax deduction of $2-$9 each.
  8. E-Books: Most libraries carry a limited selection of e-books, so you can still enjoy the benefits of your kindle without paying a cent.

How to Search the Library’s Website

There is one thing I really hate about the library. Most of them have horrible website search systems that are nearly useless. While I am optimistic that someone will improve this system and make it easier to find books, my best advice is to know which book you want before trying to find it at the library. For me, that means searching on Amazon first, then, instead of using the library’s “Subject” search, search on the author or exact title in quotes.

Library Search

Library Search by Title

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for ahead of time, find something close, figure out which section of the library it’s in and then browse the nearby similar titles.

I estimate I’m saving $100-$200 per year at the library. Are you?

Find your local library here.


Tax Refunds

tax refund trip

2013 Tax Refund Trip

I realized this month that my goal of saving $25,000 in one year may have been a bit shortsighted and possibly detrimental to my real goal, which was to live more simply and not waste money. Saving that much cash is great if you don’t have any debt and if you don’t bypass future growth opportunities.

We got a large tax refund this year, partially thanks to all of the items that we donated, but mostly due to the interest on our expensive DC-area mortgage and a miscalculated W4. Because I had been working so hard on this goal, my first inclination was to just save the money in my savings account, which earns less than 1% in interest per year. Any other year I would have immediately recognized a smarter opportunity and taken it. We finally had enough money to pay off our car.

That’s eventually what we did. The 3.5% interest paid on our Subaru Outback was far greater than the interest earned in the bank, plus now we have an extra $400 buffer each month, which we can save for the next car (and eliminate the need to have another car loan…ever.)

It scares me a bit that the pursuit of this goal kept me from making this decision faster. However, given the fact that my first thought was to save the money instead of spend it is definitely a step in the right direction. I’ll keep pursuing the original goal, but I’m going to take my blinders off and make sure I do what’s best in the long run too. Here are some great, minimalist ways to use a tax refund.

Seven Smart Ways to Use a Tax Refund

  1. Pay off debt
  2. Rebuild an emergency fund
  3. Boost retirement or college savings
  4. Invest in a necessary home repair
  5. Take a class
  6. Give it away
  7. Invest in your memory bank (i.e. take a trip)!

The last one is my personal favorite. More great suggestions from lifehacker here. Happy saving!

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