It’s Hard

Writing is hard. Writing has to be one of the hardest modes of creativity there is. Creating is hard work no matter what you’re making, but if you’re painting you can step back and see if it’s accurate or pleasing to the eye, and if you’re cooking you can taste to see if it’s edible or needs some more flavor. Writing is hard to gauge. How do you know if your writing is any good? I may read something with a few good sentences but is overall a terrible read. It could be boring, too fast, or not make sense, or it may have bad syntax and grammar. And you have to take the time to read things, and you have to have the knowledge to figure out why it’s bad. I just don’t know. It’s hard. Not the actual writing. I love to write. Sometimes I am lazy or have trouble with the ongoing commitment to write regularly, but the actual writing, the activity, is easy. I love to put pent to paper – or let my fingers fly across the keyboard as words appear. That’s not where it’s hard. It’s hard to . hard to . have confidence. I have, currently, 6 unpublished blog posts, and you know it’s not because I’m saving them up. I haven’t even posted to my blog in 8 days, when I planned to post 3 times a week. It’s because none of them are any good. Not in my eyes. They’re not worth reading. They’re embarrassing. They’re lame. They have no pictures. They don’t make sense. They aren’t worthy to be posted. Of course, the longer I go, the more pressure builds up, the less likely it seems to be that I’ll be satisfied with anything I write – even this. Blogging is hard. Writing for others is hard. Sometimes I don’t even know why I try to make this work. No involvement, a tiny readership, no idea what my audience wants to see or even why I have an audience at all. For some reason I still want to do it – or at least try to do it. So I can only just keep writing what I know and publishing what I have when I can. Even if it’s this crap.

Why Minimalism?

My current living situation begs the question: Why do I want to live on less? I talked about some of the benefits of living in a smaller space, but I haven’t really talked about the part of this experience where the hubby and I felt the need to downsize and get rid of a lot of our stuff. The idea of living on less stuff is really something that we hope carries over into the rest of our lives from this point on, even when we’re back in a “normal-sized” house.

The Reasoning

I have to ask myself: What is important to me? What benefits me, personally? What benefits my family? What benefits the world? Do I do my community – or my planet – any good when I’m sucked in to a “stuff” mentality?

How do I spend my time? This is a huge part of this whole minimalism idea. I can spend my time cleaning and picking up my stuff, playing with my stuff, watching my stuff, trying to get more stuff.

If I have cable TV available (usually this is only at a hotel), I will often turn to that over a book. If I have League of Legends available (and a good internet connection), I will often turn to that rather than set time aside to write or draw. If I need to wash and wax my fancy car, shine my silverware, get my nails manicured, pick up 50 little toys that my kids (or animals) play with once and then forget about, and fold ten loads of laundry every weekend, what time does that leave for anything else? When might I get a chance to plant a tree of volunteer for my community? When might I get a chance to invest time and attention into my family by taking them to the park? When might I get a chance to grow my mind and talents for God’s glory?

I don’t like the time-suck that is an abundance of stuff. But, more than that, I don’t like the FEELING of having tons of stuff. I don’t like it surrounding me; I don’t like how my atmosphere feels. Clutter feels bad, simply put. That’s the only way I know to say it. Clutter is both a time-suck and a. a. happiness-suck. Sucks the joy right out of me.

If you haven’t ever lived in a cluttered space, just imagine having to move junk from the table to the couch just so you can use the table for dinner or for a board game. Then imagine having to move the junk from the couch back to the table so you can have a place to sit. Or imagine having so many dishes that you can go a week without washing any, and by the end of the week you not only have a sink so full you can’t even use it but you have to spend an hour of your life catching up. the joy right out.

By contrast, emptiness and cleanliness are peaceful and enjoyable states for me to live in. I like seeing the floor, seeing all the furniture, and being able to sit on any part of the couch (not just the side that doesn’t currently have stuff on it). I love being able to move around freely in my living space without tripping over things that have no place – or have a hard time staying in their places. I love being able to wash my hands easily in an empty sink. Less clutter feels good to me, and it frees up more time for me to spend on being creative, enjoying the outdoors, interacting with my husband and my animals.

I can almost hear some of your reactions:

“That’s great for you, but I don’t have a ‘stuff’ problem.”

“I don’t think the ‘minimalist’ thing is the way to go for me. I’m not in to volunteer work, and I’m not very creative. Besides, I get plenty of time together with my spouse.”

Do I think everyone could benefit from some downsizing?

Yeah, I really do think everyone could benefit from the experience.

But that doesn’t mean that getting rid of half your stuff and moving into an RV is the way to go for you. Maybe, for some, a mission trip is a good way to learn that lesson. Maybe regular camping trips are the way to go, because they help you shift your focus. I don’t know. But I have a strong suspicion that being forced (either by yourself or by another) into a life without stuff would make the situation less beneficial. If you’re doing it for the wrong reason (being forced vs wanting it) or from the wrong mindset (I’ll try this thing she’s doing but I doubt it will work out vs I think this will be good for me ), I don’t know how much good it will do you. Don’t set yourself up for failure by going into it with a closed mind.

I’ll say this, though. If you do want it, don’t be afraid. Don’t hesitate, wondering if you can really stand to part with all your stuff. Don’t plan to do it in a year or five years. JUMP IN!! Start today! Set up a box (or bag) for items “to donate.” Start in a closet and start to toss things in the box that  you don’t regularly use or wear. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Some more cool thoughts over on 7 Tips to Get With  a New Minimalist Mentality.

Feel free to leave more tips in the comments!

Budgeting 101

Do you want some very basic tips and suggestions for budgeting? This is geared towards you if you are brand new to budgeting – as in, if you’ve never budgeted (successfully). My desire for new budgeters is that they will get a good, realistic picture of what they have and where it’s going. I do not expect a new budgeter to strictly limit his spending, necessarily. What you need, to start, is a foundation of knowledge, and that’s what I’d like to help you get!

Why You Need a Budget

You need a budget because you have financial goals that you want to meet. It’s as simple as that. Think about it! What are your financial goals? Write them down somewhere so that you can remember why you’re doing it! Do you want to own a boat or RV? Do you want to just be financially independent? Do you want to save for college for yourself or for your kids?

Your financial goals make budgeting totally worth it. Worth the trouble and the effort. They are your motivation!

Some of MY financial goals:

  • Get the RV electrical problems fixed
  • Purchase fishing equipment
  • Take a trip for my 5-year anniversary next year
  • Replenish my emergency savings account which got depleted this year
  • Become a homeowner

How To Get Started

Budgeting is a form of organization, and I love organization. Here’s the thing: it’s hard to reach your goals without a little organization. You will usually get further and be more efficient with a plan, and that’s what budgeting is about. At the most basic level, you need to know what’s currently happening with your money. From there, you can add on limits and rules and other things to help change what’s happening with your money.

Get out a notebook or open up notepad on your computer and just take down some notes.

A) At the top, you’ll want to write down your income (or projected income, if you’re planning ahead for a new financial situation). Ideally, this would be your income after taxes. You can pull out existing paystubs to figure out how much that is, or you can estimate. If you know the exact percentages that will be taken out for taxes and SI, you can do the math. Otherwise, plan to cut out around 30% of your gross pay. Whatever is left is your take-home income, and that’s the number you want to make note of.

B) Next, it’s time to look at your expenses. Write down every recurring expense you can think of. Phone bills, cable, DSL, car payments, rent/mortgage, medicine. Remember, gas & groceries aren’t fixed bills, but they are regular expenses. Estimate what you spend, and write it down. Do you have anything on auto-pay that might slip your notice, like a Hulu subscription or your Everquest account?

C) Finally, subtract B from A, and you have C, your remainder. Hopefully, your C is a positive number, because that means you have a little cash left over. If you’re in the negative, you probably already knew you were in trouble before starting this exercise. Later, I can follow up on ideas to help change that number. But if you do have a positive remainder – congrats! Now you get to decide what to do with it! Your choice is simple: you will either spend it, save it, or invest it.

Now, at least, you know where your money is going. Keep track of it! Start working on keeping an awareness of your money habits. There are some great tools around that can help you track your spending and categorize your bank transactions to help with budgeting (more on that later). In a couple weeks, I plan to post a more detailed instructional on budgeting, including a real-life, real-numbers example budget – so check back for that!

Living in 250 Square Feet

It’s hard to believe. In early 2012, we were living in almost  3,000 square feet. In early 2013, our rental home was somewhere between 1,500-2,000 square feet. Now, 250. That means everything in our current home could fit in a single room of one of our previous places. Easily.

It’s pretty interesting. We do a lot of squeezing. Squeezing past each other in the kitchen. Squeezing past the dog or the rabbit’s cage. We squeeze around the bed so we can get into our closets. Making the bed is an adventure.

When we leave the “house”. the outside world just feels that much bigger.

The funny thing is that I had no trouble imagining living in such a tiny space when we were in full-sized homes, but now that we’ve gone mini I have a really hard time imagining moving back into a larger space. What would we do with all that room? What would we fill it up with? Will this forever change our lives?

Interesting Facts.

This weekend we had to completely rearrange our freezer to cram in a frozen pizza. When we took the pizza out, it was crumpled up almost like an accordion.

I keep my cat’s water in a plastic cup in a cup-holder by my desk – which also happens to be the passenger chair of the RV.

Our dining table doubles as Marty’s desk for his laptop and for doing homework. Also, it serves as our only real counter space for preparing food.

Our shower is a drying rack, a storage space, and a shower.

Our pantry holds food, school supplies, coats, and paper towels.