Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: money (page 1 of 2)

Why (and Why Not To) Shop at a Thrift Shop?

Halloween is here and this holiday is generally the only time I set foot inside a thrift shop to buy something. Despite my minimalism project, this past year was no different. I dropped stuff off at Good Will many times, but I wasn’t shopping there. However, my team at Opower decided to dress up as Minions for Halloween and I needed a pair of overalls to complete the ensemble.

Minion Costume

Minion Costume (w/o Overalls)

There is a thrift store near my house (Treasure Trove) that benefits the local INOVA Hospitals and my search for overalls was the perfect excuse to try it.

For being a place that sells random, unused items, Treasure Trove was refreshingly clean and organized. I quickly discovered that they didn’t have any overalls, but by that point I didn’t care anymore because I’d found the rack with my shirt size and was having a good time perusing it.

What’s so great about a thrift shop?

Brands

This store had some really good brands. People in DC spend a lot on clothing, but it’s nice to see their lightly used items being recycled! The shelves were filled with everything from Banana Republic to Calvin Klein to Loft (one of my favorite stores). Not everything was a gem, but there was enough for me to find about eight items to try on.

Quality

Everything was in really good shape. I found nothing that had stains, holes, or anything else that would suggest someone else once owned and wore these clothes. Some items were wrinkled, that’s about it.

Prices

Everything I took into the dressing room was between $7-$13, even the two sport jackets (Banana Republic & Ann Taylor). Not too shabby.

When not to shop at a thrift shop?

Don’t buy something at a thrift shop if you answer “no” to any of these questions:

  1. Is this versatile and well-made?
  2. Do you love it? Does it look great on you?
  3. Is this something you’ve been thinking about getting for a while?
  4. Do you have the money?

Even though the stuff is cheap, you still shouldn’t buy something you don’t need!

I got two shifts for $18.

Thrift Shop Finds

Thrift Shop Finds

I could potentially be hooked. Next time I need something, I know where I’m going first.

Have you found a good thrift store? Where is your favorite place to buy used?

What I Learned From One Year of Minimalism

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t quite make my monetary goal for the year, but I learned an incredible amount that was far more valuable. Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned by trying to reduce “stuff” and obligations this year.

#1 – Marie Kondo can help you get organized

If you really want to reduce clutter and get your life organized, the KonMari method, which Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, is, by far, the best method to use.

Her method is simple.

  1. Discard “stuff” by considering things by category (clothing, books, papers, etc), NOT by room. Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. You’re left with a household of things you truly love. I was surprised by how many things I used to have that I rather disliked.
  2. Organize completely. Don’t buy anything fancy, just organize using the storage room you have and maybe a couple of shoeboxes.

I have yet to make it to the “organize completely” phase, but I have been floored by how well the “discard” phase works. Of all of the methods I tried this year, I found Marie Kondo’s to be the most useful. Her book is a quick read and I highly recommend it.

#2 – Clean 10 minutes a day

Set a timer and see how much you can clean in just 10 minutes. Do it every day. This is the only way I can keep my house reasonably clean and it’s really painless. I can get a lot done in 10 minutes and when that timer goes off, I’m done. No guilt for anything left out, I can get that tomorrow because I know I’ll have another 10-minute opportunity then. Some days I get so much done that I’m motivated to continue – not because I have to – but because I want to. This habit gives me a fresh start to every day and it’s really easy.

#3 – Wait 30 days before you buy something

I’m not talking about cereal or deodorant. Go ahead and buy those when you need them. However, for items that you’ll use over and over again (that will persist long after you purchase them) give yourself a chance to think twice about them. The 30-day rule lets you consider other options or do some research. It also shows you how much you want an item. If you can’t stop thinking about it for 30 days, then it’ll probably be something you enjoy for a long time, so buy it.

#4 – Increase automatic savings when you get a promotion

If you get a 3% raise and you’re already sending 8% of your paycheck to your 401(k), increase the amount you save to 9-11% right away when you get a raise. You’ll still feel like you got a raise (unless you’re very disciplined and save the entire thing – kudos to you), but you’ll also painlessly increase your savings, which could mean an extra six figures or more when you retire.

#5 – Experience gifts are awesome

It turns out that wine, chocolate, trips, and my personal favorite, massages, have become my favorite things to give and receive. Experience gifts are consumable; things that people use up, so they don’t stay around the house. They make the best presents because they build memories instead of a stockpile of “stuff”. The Minimalist Mom has a great list of 90 clutter-free gifts for any occasion.

#6 – Don’t throw away anything that doesn’t belong to you

Even kids notice when something is missing. If anyone catches you in the act of discarding something that’s not yours, the hit to his or her trust is massive. It’s not worth it and eventually #7 happens.

#7 – Your family will start de-owning stuff on their own

I think my husband jumped on board shortly after I’d cleared off my side of the dresser for the first time since we bought it. It looked like the border between Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Haiti & The Dominican Republic

Our dresser looked like this…only in our case the bare side was the best. Photo Credit: National Geographic

Our closet also became easier to use. Eventually I noticed that he’d gone through his massive T-shirt collection and had thrown a bunch away. He didn’t tell me he did it, but he did. Finally, we sat down and considered the family DVD collection together.

When you first start to de-own, it can be really hard to do it alone, knowing that the dent you’re making is only a fraction of the total family “stuff”. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ve noticed my family jumping on board, slowly but surely. Nathan has even mentioned (with a hint of gratitude that he may never admit to) how much cleaner certain rooms are now.

#8 – Time is your most precious resource

Seriously. Assuming you have basic necessities covered, nothing else matters (well, except your health). My new goal is focused on carving out more time for the things that matter (including health) because time debt is no longer something I’m willing to live with.

#9 – Shopping for groceries online is the best lifehack ever

I save 1-1.5 hours each week by shopping for groceries online and then picking them up at the store. I also save loads of money because I can easily see my total and kick things out of my cart. There are just so many very cool ways that shopping for groceries online makes my life easier. The link above to my online grocery-shopping manifesto is worth checking out if you’d like to try it. I lay out all the pros and cons.

#10 – Minimalism ruins the fun of shopping

I can’t just make an impulse purchase anymore. For example, if I’m shopping for clothes, I can’t just buy the first shirt I like. No, now there’s a little voice inside my head asking annoying questions like, “Is this well-made?” “Is this versatile?” “Does it look amazing on me?” It’s a great voice, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and changed my life forever.

#11 – It is impossible to get kids to get rid of stuff

Many will tell you they’ve succeeded in getting their kids to give away their toys. I’ll believe it when I figure out a way that works with my kids.

#12 – One extracurricular activity per week per family member is more than enough

This rule helps us all minimize the craziness that comes with too many obligations. It keeps us (the parents) from turning into a shuttle service and it helps us all prioritize what activities we really want to be involved in. I’ve also found that constricting activities to weekdays is helpful. That leaves our weekends freed up to explore and go on Family Adventure Days. Alison has soccer, Maddie is in gymnastics, and I stay late at work one night a week for yoga. Perhaps this only works because our kids are so young, but the rule works for us right now.

#13 – Minimalism is a journey

At first, I naively thought I could organize my entire life and then sit back and reap the rewards. Then the junk mail showed up and our kids had birthdays and received a bunch of presents. Freeing yourself from your stuff only works as well as your system for ensuring new stuff doesn’t catch you offhand. Figure out how you’ll defend yourself before you get started and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your wonderful new excess-free world.

One Year of Minimalism

I find it funny that my list naturally came out to an “unlucky” 13 items because I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this project for the last year. It’s changed how I think about the world and how I make decisions daily. I am, without a doubt, living a life closer to my dream life. I am excited to continue it with a new goal and I’m glad that you’ve been reading.

Share this post if you know someone who could benefit from it!

New Year, New Goal: Happy Anniversary to my Minimalist Project!

One year ago this week, I set out to achieve a goal:

By September 22, 2015, I will “earn” $25K by reducing spending, getting rid of things we don’t need, or earning a little extra doing something I love.

That date was last Tuesday, so how did I do against that goal?!

I earned $10,330.51!!

Do I feel bad about missing the larger $25K goal? Absolutely not. This has been one of the best, most enlightening projects I’ve ever done! I also realized halfway through that tying this journey to a dollar amount was a pretty terrible idea.

#1 Lesson Learned

Why? Because it’s not the money that matters, the real reason to embrace having less “stuff” is that it leads directly to having more time.

Time to spend with the people you love

Time to travel

Time to learn a new hobby

Time to try a new recipe

Time to relax

Time to read

Time to learn

Time to be you.

Time is the only thing that matters and this year I’ve given myself a lot more time.

How I Saved $10,000

I also ended up saving a substantial amount of money that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Who wouldn’t want an extra $10,000? That’s huge! Where did that come from?

  • $1288.67: We refinanced into a lower cost mortgage in March and since then have saved over $1000.
  • $4219.77: This is the amount we’ve saved simply by not buying extra stuff we don’t need for the house (furniture, knick knacks, etc). It’s amazing to see this amount consolidated into one number. That’s a lot of money that I’m happy I still have.
  • $1410: We paid off our car with our tax return and have been saving the extra funds.
  • $3412.07: This is miscellaneous savings. Extra funds from coming in under budget on groceries, bills, and other budget categories. We saved most of the money from raises we were lucky enough to get this year, I sold a few things, and saved all of the interest earned on various accounts.

If I’d had more motivation to make money, I also would have tried harder to sell some of the items we de-owned. I have a huge pile downstairs of the things I’ve earmarked through the KonMari Method. The only reason this stuff is still around is – quite frankly – because I’m being a bit lazy. However, I like to think of my laziness simply as prioritizing time spent with the kids in the evening over making progress on this goal. It will be donated or sold by the end of the year.

Stuff We're Getting Rid Of

Stuff We’re Getting Rid Of This Year

New Goal

I loved this project so much that, for the next year, I’ve decided to continue it, but with a slightly different goal:

Over the next year (by Sept 30, 2016), I will finish organizing using the KonMari Method and then concentrate on finding at least two hours a day to work toward long-term goals such as starting my own business and writing a book.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and joined me in the past year! Especially my husband, Nathan, our two daughters and my friend, Jossie, who have all gone above and beyond in their support this year.

Here’s to another great year!

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!

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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