Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: May 2015

The Gift of Time

Nathan and I are celebrating our 10th Anniversary today! No presents, just quality time spent together (and a few days without the kids for the first time since they were born)! There’s a reason that time seems to move more slowly when you’re younger and you can get that feeling back. Give yourself the gift of time!

gift of time

One of the highlights of our marriage so far: Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro

Gift of Time

It seems cliché, but wouldn’t all anniversaries be better if, instead of buying presents, we did something special with our favorite people to commemorate the day? A picture or memory is worth a thousand gifts. For Mother’s Day this year, my mom flew to DC and we all went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. While she also got a present personalized by my kids, I’m guessing the part she appreciated the most was the trip. I know I did.

gift of time

Memories in the Making

I recently read a fascinating book by Joshua Foer called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering Everything. He, somewhat accidentally, discovered the world of competitive memorization, trained for a year, and won the American Championship. During the year he trained, he wrote about all of the memorization techniques that help us remember things on a daily basis. For people like me that have a hard time remembering names, this book is filled with great tips. One of his mentors also discussed an interesting theory on how to elongate your life and slow down time. Our brains are very visual and, the stranger and more unique an image is in our brains, the better we remember them. The same is true for experiences. That’s why we have a hard time remembering what we had for breakfast (routine memory), but an easier time remembering our vacations (something different and interesting). That’s also why it seems like time is moving more slowly when you’re younger: every day brings something new and your brain holds onto it. Therefore, by doing something interesting and distinct with your life more often, you’ll remember it better and make time feel slower.

So, instead of automatically buying a gift for your next holiday, try the gift of time. Find something unique and exciting to do and enjoy a less materialistic life.

My Minimalist Birthday

minimalist birthdayI didn’t have to remind people about my minimalism project. I didn’t even notice that something had changed until several days after my birthday.

When I first started this project, holidays would roll around and people would joke about getting me extravagant or highly unnecessary gifts (like a second pitchfork) and probably spent more time than they should have wondering what to get me that would be minimalistic enough. Some friends and family bought normal, material presents anyway, but some found creative ways to get me experience gifts (there are some great minimalist birthday gift ideas here and here). The idea that I didn’t want a real present bothered some people.

Now, eight months later, with all the fanfare of a slug falling asleep under a leaf, my birthday rolled around and everyone automatically went minimalist. That’s right! I got amazing gifts from my family and friends (thank you!), but absolutely nothing material. What’s even better, no one even mentioned my minimalism project. No one, except my good friend, Maureen, who brightened my day with an offer to get me Marie Kondo’s new book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and made sure she got it in the best, most minimalist format (kindle). (So thoughtful!)

I also removed my birthday from Linked In and should have done the same for Facebook. While the onslaught of wishes seems nice at first, it’s nothing compared to hearing a sincere ‘Happy Birthday’ from someone who cares enough to remember it without a Facebook prompt.

So, while I may not be changing the entire world with this project, it seems I am changing my little piece of the world, which is enough for now.

Relationship Journals & Happiness (Quick Tip)

relationship journal - Photo Credit: UnsplashA study from Brigham Young University recently concluded that women were the least happy in their marriages around the 10-year mark. This is because we’re likely to have a tiny kid or two in tow and men still don’t do 50% of the housework and planning necessary to run a household.

At the end of May, Nathan and I happen to be celebrating our 10-year anniversary and the study resonates with me. I am tired and we’re not splitting the household work and organization duties down the middle. I can’t even get Nathan to talk about it sometimes without him rolling his eyes.

Relationship Journals

During my hour-long commute, I’m reading the latest Dan and Chip Heath book called Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. I love their work (Switch and Made to Stick are both great books on how to make long-term, high-impact changes to your life). One of the chapters, called “Considering the Opposite”, talks about an intrinsic problem with human decision-making. Once we’ve formed an opinion, we subconsciously seek out evidence that upholds our opinion and conveniently ignore the counter-evidence (sound familiar, partisan US Congress?). So, when you’re frustrated with your spouse, you tend to see all of the bad things he or she does and ignore the good ones. An interesting way to turn that trend around is to keep a relationship journal.

Fix Your Perception of Reality

The premise is simple and takes two minutes a day. Every day, write down at least one good thing that your spouse did.

That’s it. I find this works really well with the kids too. When you first get started, it’s really hard to think of good things because your brain is trained to pay attention to the missteps, but soon the floodgates open and you actually start to pay attention to the good things as they happen.

I started mine on Monday and I’ve already noticed a big difference. My first entry was, “Nathan didn’t pick as many fights with my mom this weekend as usual.” (What I couldn’t quite get out of my head at the time was that he didn’t remember Mother’s Day, which made me sad.)

By the end of the week, I was already pre-programmed to find the good things like, “Nathan made a special trip to the store to get the exact kind of cake I like for my birthday.”

The effect is pretty radical. The person or situation that you’re journaling about hasn’t changed, only your perception changes. But your perception of the world is a big deal. I find myself much, much happier on a day-to-day basis, when I’m not dwelling on the things that are going wrong.

And here’s some more good news: The same study I referenced in the beginning about the perils of the 10-year relationship mark also noted that once you hit 35 years of marriage you go back to being as happy as you were when you first met. Perhaps if I keep journaling, we’ll make it that long.

How Minimalism Ruined Shopping for Clothes

MinimalismLast weekend, for the first time since I started my minimalism project in the fall, I realized that I had a legitimate reason to go shopping for clothes. After months of de-owning the items I don’t wear, like, or fit into and with the weather heating up, I was left with less than a week’s worth of short-sleeved shirts I could wear to work. I also had about $36 left on a Loft gift card that my brother-in-law had given me over a year ago. So, with a real need and some money, I gave myself a license to go shopping.

I went to the new Springfield Town Center mall to see what I could find. At several stores, I tried on shirt after shirt, a couple of capris and a couple of sweaters and I found nothing! Why is this so hard?

I’ll tell you! I have a new voice inside of my head that asks me really annoying questions:

  1. Does this look amazing on me? Do you absolutely love it? This gets rid of most items I tried on.
  2. Is this something you really need? Is this what you came here to buy? This got rid of more items.
  3. Is this significantly different from everything else that you have so as to justify buying it (when you could just wear what you have)?
  4. How often can you really wear this? How long will it last? If it’s something that I could wear every week or layer in every season and it’s good quality, it’s probably a good purchase.

That’s how minimalism ruined shopping for clothes and that is how I walked out of the mall on Saturday with just two items: a blue, plain tank top (which is great for wearing or layering) and a black cardigan to replace one of the most versatile and often-used shirts in my closet (the old one was missing several buttons and fraying along the sleeve edges).

I honestly wonder if I need to find a new set of stores. Most women’s fashion comes with an expiration date and to help you buy more clothing, stores make everything really thin and cheaply.

Any suggestions? Where do you shop for your clothes?

Mortgage Refinance Lessons Learned

Mortgage Refinance Lessons Learned

Home, Sweet Home

Housing in and around DC is expensive, but we love our house and our neighborhood. I wouldn’t mind if it were smaller (in fact, if my spouse would let me, I’d begin construction on a tiny house in Montana tomorrow), but the fact remains that I couldn’t think of a better place to raise our family right now.

We bought our house nearly three years ago, without anywhere near 20% down, so we’ve been paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) — $8250 so far, to be exact. It’s an incredible waste of money.

So a few months ago, I started researching how to get rid of PMI and we finally decided to refinance. I naively thought that it would be a breeze because we already own the house, so we wouldn’t have to wait for a specific closing date, right? Sign the papers and bam we’ve got a new mortgage! Wrong.

We chose PNC Mortgage because we already have a checking account at PNC and the rates and fees were decently competitive. We applied officially on January 8, but didn’t close until March 9. First, the paperwork came, but was laden with errors. (For example, Nathan’s social security number and birthday were wrong. Apparently the bank wasn’t worried that I’d married a 63-year-old Park Ranger.) It took a month and a half to get that changed. Later our house was listed as being in Georgia. The change to put us in the right state (Virginia) was not made officially until the closing day. Day after day something new would go wrong. The loan processor would disappear for extended “sick leave” or “vacation” or the bank would wait until the last minute to check our employment status or file for the new title. As the closing date drew near, we had to sit through our loan officer and loan processor yelling at each other via email. It was the most unprofessional process I’ve ever been through. While we waited, the fees rose a bit and our target closing date of Feb 26 came and went without the bank proactively keeping us in the loop. I had to pay another month of our expensive mortgage and squeeze in a closing date between travel and a major quarterly meeting. The rates had since gone up, so we were stuck with PNC’s locked-in rate unless we wanted to pay a lot more over the life of the loan to switch banks.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Mortgage Refinance Lessons Learned

  1. I wouldn’t use PNC Mortgage again. Ask friends for referrals (which I did) and be patient enough (which I was not) to use one of them instead of someone you find on your own.
  2. Set expectations low and be patient. Refinancing is a major pain and takes a long time. Be prepared for that when you start.
  3. Refinance at a time when you’re not busy. Just like buying a house, it takes a lot of back and forth to refinance. Do it when you’re not busy and at a time when you won’t be out of town around closing day.
  4. Save what you save. It was easy to start thinking about where I’d re-appropriate the money saved, but instead of finding a creative way to spend our newfound cash, I’m saving it. It will likely go into a major home maintenance project someday, but for now, it’s just earning me interest in the bank.
  5. It was worth it. We saved nearly $400 a month after refinancing and many thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. There are many calculators like this one and this one that can help you decide whether to refinance and will show you how long you need to stay in your home to start making a return on investment.

Do you have any refinancing advice? Share it!

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