April Recap

April should have come with a warning label. At best, you could say it was an unfortunate month. At worst, I’d call it a downright disaster!

We shot out of the gate, armed with good intentions, and for a few days we were on a roll. We went to a festival, ate tacos from our favorite food truck, had a picnic, went letterboxing, and walked/hiked 31.6 miles – all within the first five days of the month. Then things went downhill fast. My niece was admitted to the hospital with a severe kidney infection. The doctor said that if she had gone just a few days longer she might have done irreparable harm. Most of that week we had the baby. She’s a wonderfully sweet 22-month-old ball of energy and we love her to pieces but she will wear you out. Needless to say, it took several down days afterwards for us to recover. Then the little one got sick too. She was in the ER twice in a 12-hour period before being diagnosed with Strep.

In the midst of all this, we celebrated Angie’s birthday. I use the term “celebrated” very loosely here. The eggplant lasagna that I made for dinner turned out to be largely inedible. I’m not sure what went wrong but I’m thinking the eggplant itself must have been bad (though it looked and felt fine to me). Our plans to go for a nice long walk were thwarted and we found ourselves at the mall instead. Note: when you try on every hiking sandal in 3 stores and still can’t find what you’re looking for, chances are very good that you don’t need hiking sandals.  And by being at the mall, we missed my mom dropping by to deliver a slice of strawberry cake from Chef’s Market, the most delicious bakery in all of Middle Tennessee. (We later went to her house to retrieve said cake.)

Despite our setbacks we managed to eek out a few small victories though.

  • We removed 112 items from our home and shed. This brings our decluttering total up to 329 item for the year.
  • We both read 3 books. You can check out my page or Angie’s page on Goodreads for more details.
  • We had 11 no-spend days again. I’m beginning to wonder if counting no-spend days is even an accurate measure of success though. When I know that we’re going to spend money, I simply try to combine all spending into that one day so the next is a no-spend day. But $50 spent in one day is still the same as $25 spent on two consecutive days. And when you’re actually working within your budget, isn’t miscellaneous spending already accounted for anyway – no matter how many days that spending is spread over?? What are your thoughts on no-spend days?
  • We made $155.30 in side-hustles, almost all of it from selling clutter on OfferUp.
  • Angie scored another month of free bagels from Panera, of which we only missed 3 days of picking up our newest obsession – Sprouted Grain Bagel Flats.
  • Our meat consumption was up just a bit but we still managed 9 entirely meatless days (64 meatless meals). This was due in large to part to rescuing 9 pounds of unopened, in-date, deli-sliced turkey and ham just as they were being tossed out (for reasons unknown).
  • We hiked 24.4 miles and walked 56.6.
  • We went on our first official camping trip of the year, during which time we completed our letterboxing goal. We found 24 boxes in Murfreesboro, Manchester, and McMinnville (TN) bringing our total to 56 for the year.

Today is the 2nd day of a brand new month and we plan on making a few changes to the way we’re tracking our progress toward our happiness goals. We also plan to make a few changes to the way we approach this whole pursuit of happiness. After reading Erin Loechner’s book Chasing Slow, I’ve come to realize that chasing anything, be it happiness, a career path, sustainable living, better relationships, or early retirement, is counterproductive. To chase is to run after and to run full tilt toward anything, no matter how noble, almost always guarantees you miss the scenery along the way. I, for one, feel like it’s time to just slow down.

How was your April? What one thing would you change to make May a better month?

Back to Basics Minimalism

Once upon a time, in another career, I led a campaign to get “back to basics” in the way we provided service to our clients. As our company grew from 80 to 800 employees we lost sight of some of the fundamentals of good business and made some simple processes way too complicated. I won’t bore you with the details of this little campaign (which involved a lot of flowcharts), but I will say that I never forgot the lesson learned from it: Simpler is always better.

We’ve lived in TN for almost 2 years now and in that time we’ve strayed from some of the fundamentals of minimalism. I know it wasn’t intentional. We didn’t go out and buy a whole bunch of stuff. We didn’t set out to fill our calendar with things to do. But over time, things happen. We adapted somewhat to the culture around us, a culture that values gift-giving at every occasion and likes to fill their days with more to do than can possible be done.

In short, life has grown a little bit too complicated lately and so it is time for our own back to basics campaign. Which is going something like this –

Basic #1: Declutter. On Friday, we launched a major decluttering effort in our shed. This project has been on our to-do list since January, when we decided not to keep the camping and kayaking gear that we haven’t used in 2 years. (Note- we still actively engage in both activities but we have enough gear to outfit a small group excursion and well, there are only 2 of us.) After an awful experience with Letgo a few weeks ago and no luck on Craigslist in finding real buyers, we decided to try an app called OfferUp. BINGO! This was just the boost we needed – everything we listed from the shed – EVERYTHING – sold that very day. We made $155.

On Saturday, we continued decluttering, cleaning out the bedroom closet and drawers. T-shirts we’d held on to for sentimental reasons – gone. “Good” socks that we absolutely hated to wear – gone. The broken $20 sewing machine that was going to cost more to fix than we paid for it – gone. It felt good! In total, we got rid of 61 items.

Basic #2: Unplug. On Sunday morning we turned off our phones. We made ourselves an amazing brunch – frittatas, fresh fruit, and a mixed berry muffin. We talked, we laughed, we read books, we planned meals for the week, and made a big pot of soup. As we continued our decluttering efforts, going through the kitchen cabinets, we found an unopened box of Borax. “Remember when we made our own laundry soap?” I asked. We reminisced for a moment about simpler times and decided to make a few jars of soap. This was a fun and easy project that did more than just give us a usable result – it reconnected us with some of our core values: frugality, resourcefulness, and sustainability.

Basic #3: Waste Nothing. Building on that momentum, Angie put a new compost bucket on the patio. We had stopped composting a few months back (in the winter) when my mom had declared it too muddy to trek to the compost bin. We recently ordered a new bin that could be kept closer to the house and on Sunday, we resumed our composting efforts.

Basic #4: Stop Buying (or in our case, stop accepting) Stuff. Thankfully we were both born without a shopping gene. On occasion we like to browse the thrift stores or REI but for the most part, we don’t have a problem with wanting “stuff”. We do have a problem with saying no. Just this week, my niece gave us a box of clothes to keep at our house for the baby and a high chair. My mom gave me 3 new shirts and Angie a pair of shorts. And we found a box of discarded items by the dumpster that contained 2 brand new blankets, still in their packaging, and a lot of nearly new picture frames. I’m happy to say that we only kept one blanket. We gave the rest of the box to Goodwill. The high chair and clothes went to my mom’s house, where they are needed, and we got rid of one item of clothing for each new item brought in. It’s one small success today while we continue to work on “no, thank you” for the future.

Minimalism is not a very common practice here in our area and definitely not one that is embraced by my family. I never imagined when we moved back to help out, that our choice to live simply would be such a bone of contention. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been questioned or teased about wearing the same pants I wore the day before, for using a towel more than once, for not buying Angie a birthday card (let alone a present), for having only two sets of sheets for our bed, for being a cheapskate, and more. In fact, just the other day, I had to justify why I was getting rid of “perfectly good clothing”. I’m not criticizing my family. They are who they are, just like we are who we are. Which leads me to the following…

Basic #5: Be True to Yourself. I believe that this is the most important principle, not just of minimalism, but of life. You have to live on your own terms, doing things your own way, regardless of what others think or say, in order to be truly happy. Minimalism is no different. It is an individual journey toward one goal – creating more out of less. More time from less obligation. More money from less spending. More happiness from less stress. Being true to ourselves means remembering (and sometimes simply reconnecting) with the one principle that has guided us in our minimalist journey for the past 5 years – simpler is always better.