Freedom Tastes Better Than Ice Cream

After getting my head back in the financial game, I decided to take a hard look at our spending during the months that we were doing a “no-budget” budget. Being the big spenders that we are, most of our unplanned purchases during that time went to food. Not dining out. Just plain old groceries. Okay, maybe “plain old groceries” is a bit of a misstatement. We seem to have developed a serious penchant for high-dollar yogurts, fancy ice cream bars, and fresh cuts of salmon. And what’s with that $12 bag of “hand-crafted” chips we bought at the produce stand?? They weren’t even all that good!

After analyzing the data, I popped my head into the living room where Angie was reading a book.

“Did you know we’ve been spending more than $450 a month on groceries and household stuff over the past 3 months?”

“No,” she replied, and kept on reading.

Not to be ignored, I plopped down on the ottoman. “$450,” I reiterated. “Remember when we used to spend $150 a month on groceries in Florida?”

“Yes. And remember how we also spent $20 a week at the Amish market?” she countered.

“Okay, fine,” I said, doing the math in my head. “But that’s still just $230 a month. I know groceries aren’t that much more expensive here. And we ate red meat back then! Something has changed.”

That something was us.

Over the years, we’ve gone in a lot of different directions, all for pretty much the same reason – to live with less. We embraced minimalism and tackled downsizing. Then we paid off debt, which meant we could work less. Next, we took some time to travel. And then we settled in to try living more sustainably. Each of these directions has required us to be diligent with our budget. It gave purpose to our spending…and our saving.

We’ve been living a pretty comfortable minimalist life for quite a few years. If you were to look at us on paper, we’d look something like this – we’re a one income couple with no kids, no consumer debt, and no mortgage. We rent a mid-priced one-bedroom apartment in a growing suburb of Nashville, where the cost of living is 27% below the national average. We have one car, one cat, and one heck of a good time taking advantage of all the free outdoor activities we have nearby. In short, we’re doing all right. But we have no goals…which means there’s little reason to think about the difference between spending $230 on groceries and $450. Both are reasonable (one, I’d even call cheap) so why be concerned?

Because life is better when you have a direction.

I mentioned last week that the landscape of my employment is changing. Our CEO is leaving at the end of July. Generally, management changes mean little to me but this one is different. Over the past 8 ½ years, I’ve quit this job twice (or rather, tried to quit). Both times, the demands of family were my primary motivators and both times, our wonderful CEO made accommodations that allowed me to stay. I am the only remote employee of a community center located 1,200 miles away. I work 4 days a week and still receive all the benefits of a full-time employee. In short, it’s a pretty good job (as far as jobs go) and I do enjoy the work; but I mainly stay because of the relationship I have with the CEO. She is not a micromanager. She trusts me and I trust her. I always said that if she left, I’d leave too but I guess, I didn’t think that would happen this year.

I haven’t turned in a notice or set a quit date or anything like that. I’m simply exploring our options right now. You see, leaving my job is not so much a loyalty thing as it is a freedom thing. I felt compelled to stay because so much was done on my behalf, but my heart has always been in a different place – a place where I could wake up every day and choose what I wanted to do without the constraints of any one job.

Along the way, I’ve made contingencies for such a day. Though we had a bit of a falling out with finance this year, we’ve never stopped saving for (and dreaming of) this opportunity. That commitment to minimalism that I described above has put us in a good position where I could work even less than I do now – provided we stop buying $12 bags of chips – and the thought of finally being able to do that (without feeling guilty) is pretty exciting. So exciting, in fact, that it’s the main reason I started rethinking our budget this week. If cutting our grocery budget is what it takes to achieve our version of a “work optional” life, then bring on the beans and rice, baby! I’m all in!

Simply said – saving money makes so much more sense when it is in pursuit of something attainable. If I can own my most precious resource – time – then I don’t just want to toss money around carelessly, even if it is for food. That $5 ice cream bar may be delicious, but I don’t want to look back one day and find that it (and others like it) stood in the way of our achieving something truly rewarding.

Why I Ditched My Desk

At the beginning of May, we accepted a challenge from Minimalism and Your Money to spend 100 hours outdoors. While Dave met the challenge, Angie and I finished the month with 85 hours – still not too shabby for the rainiest month of the year. During the month, we managed to:

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We also enjoyed a lot of our meals on our patio and I soon began to look forward to lunchtime. Like a little kid in school, the mere thought of going outside meant I could barely sit still at my desk. Ah, my desk…it has been both a creature comfort and a thorn in my side for years. On the one hand, it has provided me a dedicated space to park my laptop and my rear end for countless hours over the past 4 years. On the other hand, it has also served as a constant visual reminder of my work obligations. If you work from home, you understand this dilemma. There is no separation of work and home. Even when you have a separate office, you still know the work is there and you can often find yourself “getting just one more thing done” long past quitting time.

I spend about 38 hours a week on my laptop. In that time, I accomplish whatever work tasks I have assigned myself, work on this blog, update our social media sites, and take care of any budgetary activities that may need attention (like paying the rent or logging our receipts). For the remaining 130 hours, my laptop always sat on my desk and along with the knick-knacks, gathered dust (or served as a catch-all for the mail). For the longest time, my desk was the first thing you saw when you walked into our apartment. When Angie and I would have decluttering days, I longed to put it in with the rest of the discards but could never bring myself to do it.

A few weeks ago, we were working on the bedroom closet – pushing our winter clothes to the back and bringing our summer clothes to the front. During this (quick) process, I mentioned that it would be cool to have some sort of cabinet or drawer to organize my sewing supplies. The very next day, we were pulling out of the apartment complex when I saw something out of the corner of my eye by the dumpster. Lo and behold, it was a cabinet! Granted, it was a lot bigger than what I had envisioned, but it was a cabinet and it was free.

We brought the rickety kitchen island into the house, cleaned and tightened it up, and there it sat for a few days while we tried to decide what to do with it. The only logical option was to put it where my desk was. To do that, I’d have to ditch the desk. You would think that I would have been ecstatic to finally have a reason to get rid of my desk, but I was conflicted. So first, I moved the desk to the patio to “test” our new idea before committing to it. I rehomed a few of the knick-knacks (they all have special meaning to me) to other locations in the apartment. Then I tried organizing my sewing supplies in the cabinet.

I didn’t like the way it looked. The next day, I moved some of our cookery into the cabinet instead. That didn’t make sense either, since it left empty cabinets in the kitchen (not the most ideal place to store my sewing stuff or a laptop). On the third day, I hit upon a “brilliant” idea. I moved our file boxes and my knitting basket into the cabinet and put both our laptops in the drawer. I know that doesn’t sound like a Nobel Prize winning discovery, but here’s the real beauty in what I did.

I moved my work out of my sight. The simple act of putting the laptop in the drawer changed the way I saw, not just the room, but our home in general. The first time that I walked into the apartment after the change, I was amazed at how much cozier and more homelike the place felt.

It’s not that I dislike my work. I don’t. I just don’t want it to be the first thing I see when I come through the door and I don’t want it to be the focal point of the room. Work is a small part of a much larger whole. For the first time ever, that drawer gives it a properly sized place in our home. I can get the laptop out when I need to, and I can put it back when I’m done. No more seeing it sit there 24/7.

If that’s not great, how about this then? Not having a dedicated space to sit for 6-8 hours a day has meant that I must find a new location to work. The kitchen table has always been just a few feet from my desk but the view by moving over just those few feet is completely different. I can see out the window! And then there’s the patio where the view is even better. Yes, I know that I could have picked up the laptop off the desk a hundred times and moved outside, but I never did. The desk was my “comfort zone”. Everything was already there and all I had to do was just plop down and write.

The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. ~ Karen Salmansohn

Ditching my desk didn’t take away my responsibilities to work and home. It didn’t mean that I would spend any less time on the computer. It simply helped to reframe things in a way that was more reflective of how I feel inside. Work is important but it is secondary to the many, many more important aspects of my life.

Ditching my desk was a small thing but it was one of the best things I’ve done all year. Who knows what I may tackle next!

As for what happened to my desk…I gave it to a neighbor. She’s using it for a plant stand.


Side note: I was in the middle of editing this post on Monday morning when my phone rang. It was one of those calls that you always say “if this happens, then I’ll do ___” but you never really expect it to actually happen. It seems apropos that as I am delegating my work life to a smaller space in my home, transitions are taking place with my employer that may make my work life itself even smaller. At present, I don’t know much, but as things develop, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, it’s time to start thinking about how best to fill in that blank above.