Tuesday, December 31, 2013

E-Clutter vs. P-Clutter

My mother-in-law recently started a group on Facebook called "Minimize."  Her inspiration for the group was a post on The Minimalists about starting a minimize game.  Essentially, each person playing the game donates, recycles, or trashes as many items as the day of the month.  For example, on December 31st a participant would minimize 31 items.  While the group doesn't play the game for the sake of competition, it has been really eye-opening to watch so many people declutter their homes.  I've participated a bit, but have not committed to daily decluttering since we already have parred down quite a bit.  One topic discussion that has come up quite frequently -- particularly at the end of the month when we're struggling to find items to declutter -- is the following:  Does electronic clutter count?

I think that the answer to this question lies in one's definition of clutter.  I define clutter as anything that takes up unnecessary space in my life.  For my purposes, space can mean physical or mental space.  Something that detracts from my ability to accomplish my goals (personal or professional) is clutter.

As a result of this definition, I completely support the idea of electronic media counting as clutter.  For example, I took time to reclaim my email box from newsletters and advertisements that I don't have a use for.  Unsubscribing to these took about 15 seconds per email, but the end result is less wading through the mess to find the correspondence that I want to read.  Another example is Internet bookmarks.  I often bookmark pages so that I'll remember to go back to them or for future projects.  Taking the time to delete the bookmarks for pages that I had read or for the pages that were no longer relevant made my folders much easier to manage.

Of course, there is all sorts of other electronic clutter that one might want to go through and purge periodically.

  • E-Books
  • Pictures
  • Music
  • Files
I have digitized most of my important paperwork, but I still need to go through every so often and delete the paperwork that is no longer necessary.  Not only does this free up hard drive space, it forces me to evaluate my organization system.  Decluttering and minimizing are a process, not an end state.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Introducing the Commander

On his first walk with Dad.
Hubby and I have been talking about getting a dog for a long time, but the time never seemed right.  For a while, the primary reason was that we were both in graduate school and barely had time for each other, let alone a high maintenance animal.  Then we moved to the midwest after earning our master's degrees and the primary objective became settling into our new home and work/doctoral programs.  Then the excuse was the overall workload that both of us were under.  I had to teach, take classes, and study for comps, while hubby was working 40+ hours a week and studying for his exams.  In short, the time just never seemed right.  Until now... 

After finding out that I had passed my last exam -- ever -- I told hubby that I wanted to go visit the puppies at the local humane society.  I hadn't intended on adopting a dog that day.  Really, I was just interested in getting out of the house and spending some time with some animals that could use some love and attention.  But then, we met Cisco, a one year old chihuahua mix, and completely fell in love with him.  That night we started the process of bringing Cisco to his forever home.

Our local humane society is very particular about who they send animals home with.  This makes me particularly happy because so many of the dogs at the shelter are pit bulls (and mixes thereof) that have the potential to be abused if not treated kindly.  The application consists of determining if you understand the time and money required to care for a dog and your general knowledge of dog ownership.  The question that bothered me the most was, "What will you do with your pet if you move?"  I mean, really?!  There is only right answer to this question and that is "take him with me."  It turns out that the majority of animals have been surrendered to the humane society because the owners moved somewhere that pets are not allowed.  When making a 15 to 20 year commitment, it would seem that most people don't think of the potential consequences of their decisions.  I personally found pet ownership to be great while looking for apartments since only three in the area we were looking allowed pets.  Yes, we still had a choice about where to live, but it was narrowed from the 20 possible places we could have lived.

After being approved for adoption, there were two other hoops to jump through.  First, we had to know if Cisco would be good with cats since we already have two at home.  He passed that test with flying colors.  He honestly doesn't care whatsoever about cats.  He wanted to smell the "test" cat, but was very respectful of her space.  This boded well for him at our home.

The second hoop was the other family that had a hold on Cisco before us.  The humane society requires any existing doggie siblings to meet the new addition before adoption to ensure that it will be a good match.  Fortunately for us, the meet and greet didn't go well, through no fault of Cisco's.  The other family had two big dogs and neither of them were too impressed with the idea of having a chihuahua for a brother.  There loss was our gain.  The humane society called us at 1:45 PM and we were there fifteen minutes later to pick him up.
One of the first things we did was change his name ever so slightly.  Instead of spelling it Cisco (like the computer/networking company), we changed it to Sisko -- as in Commander Sisko from Star Trek.  We know it's sort of nerdy, but the Commander is settling in at his new home nicely.  

He's been here for three days and we haven't had any indoor accidents yet.  This is probably because I'm neurotic about taking him outside.  We haven't noticed any "tells" about when he needs to go outside, so for now we take him out first thing in the morning, every two hours or so, and just before bed.  

Last night was a great night for us.  I really want Sisko to be kennel trained because I want to him to eventually feel like he has a place of his own in the house.  Plus, I don't feel comfortable with him staying in the house alone yet since I don't know if he can "hold" it.  So, we've been putting him in the kennel at night.  The first two nights were miserable because he just whined and whined all night long.  Last night I put in ear plugs so I couldn't hear him and hubby listened to his iPod.  Turns out we didn't need to take extra steps because he didn't whine at all.  Maybe he's getting acclimated to his new home after all.

If you're looking for a new pet, I strongly recommend considering adoption.  You'll be giving an animal a second chance at life and making a lifelong friend in the process.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gone Jarring Crazy

Some time ago I discovered the most amazing blog, Salad in a Jar, about using a vacuum sealer to store lettuce for salads.  While I can't use most of the recipes on her blog for dietary reasons (too much dairy), it's totally worth a look.  Hubby and I were looking for a way to incorporate more veggies into our diet, but with our schedules and the fact that I don't do mornings salads were out -- or so we thought.  By vacuum sealing our lettuce in pint jars on Sunday we are able to have fresh salad throughout the week.  I seal eight jars of lettuce and eight jars of toppings.  For the toppings, I use 4oz jelly jars.  Then when hubby is packing lunches during the week, he grabs one of each for both of us and uses another jelly jar for dressing.  All of this jarring got me to thinking about what other things I could store this way.  It turns out that there are quite a few things I can do...

UL:  Salad and toppings; UR: Lasagna, LL: Apple pie filling; LR: Shepherd's pie
Expanding from the basic salad, I have jarred lasagna, shepherd's pie, red beans & rice, and jambalaya.  I like using the jars because they are very portable and environmentally friendly.  I like that they help with portion control.  It turns out that a pint is the perfect size for lunch.  Plus, they are super easy to clean and don't retain any of the funk that plastic containers can take on over time.  So now instead of packing one jar, I get two pint jars and two jelly jars in every lunch box.  

A word of caution: I use a vacuum sealer for my jarring.  This is a more temporary form of food storage that requires the food to still be refrigerated.  When hubby and I set up our garden (hopefully in the spring), I'll explore a more long term canning solution.  

The next frontier of jarring for me is dairy free cheezecake.  Hubby binged and ate a whole cheesecake the weekend before his exam and I was super jealous that I couldn't join him -- probably would have saved him the belly ache too!  So, I found a recipe for dairy-free cheesecake that I'll make in the jars to take to work for lunch.  I'll be sure to report back my findings.

Best wishes!   

Insurance demands

Home-ownership is definitely an adventure.  Everyday I learn new things about our home and am learning to love it more and more.  Earlier in the week we got a voice mail, email, and snail mail message from our homeowners insurance provider about some updates that we need to do in order to keep our insurance.  (Kudos to our insurance company for being over communicative!)  The sad thing is that we had planned on doing these things in the spring/summer when the weather is much more conducive to outside work.  But we need to appease them, so we're moving our time table up to now.

According to the insurance we need to install a railing for our garage "deck" and have the chimney mortar addressed.  I had my favorite handy-man come out to the house today to give us an estimate on the railing.  The hope is that he can install a functional railing that can be reused when it comes time to build the deck later in the spring.  The funny part is that the door upstairs and potential for a deck is what sold this house.  When were first looking for a home, I wasn't interest in having an attached garage.  However, being able to have a private space to drink hot tea and grade or have a quiet beer with hubby sounded awesome.  We wouldn't have even looked at this house if it wasn't for this door.

The chimney is a bit more frustrating though because nothing is functionally wrong with it.  Yes, it is an old chimney that has probably seen better days, but for insurance purposes this shouldn't be an issue.  On the upside, I'll have whomever when choose to do the chimney remove the old-school television antenna while they are at it.  At least once the chimney is redone I'll be able to add it to our growing list of upgrades.  Plus, we won't need to deal with it for the foreseeable future.  Yay for adventures and learning new things!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Serial Killer Red

I am a huge fan of color.  Nothing me makes me more crazy than the idea of being surround by white walls.  That being said, the original color of our dining room had much to be desired.  I kid you not, the color was somewhere between serial killer red and arterial blood spray (see for yourself below).  I know that these are pretty graphic descriptions of the paint color, but it is what it is.  Some people might even like the red, but luckily for me those people don't live in my house.


Hubby was a little sad to see the red go.  He said that it had grown on him, but was willing to change it to make me happy.  Unfortunately, I had no idea about what color to paint the room.  I knew the living room would someday be a shade of gray and that the kitchen would be gray or purple, so I needed a color that would work well between them and still be able to stand on its own.


One thing that I've learned about painting throughout the years -- mind you I had a sea foam green bedroom as a kid -- is that you cannot trust the itty bitty paint chip that you get from the store.  Inevitably the color on the chip and the color on your wall will be nothing similar.  So, we bought a few samples from the paint store and tried them out.  The color on the left is "city retreat,"  in the middle is "autumn harvest," and on the right is "pewter mug."  I really thought that I would like "city retreat" in the downstairs, but it is a bit a too close to white and doesn't inspire me.  The dining room ended up "autumn harvest" with the kitchen and living room getting "pewter mug."

Personally, I would have never chosen to paint a room orange, but at hubby's suggestion we bought the sample and it actually worked out really well.

I did learn a few new things along the way.  First, always primer over the old color when you're making big changes.  I had asked the lovely paint people about it because I wasn't sure and they assured me that the primer in the paint would do the job.  I think that they just wanted me to buy more paint because it took three gallons to get the job done.  Second, always take the time to check out every nook and cranny on the wall.  I patched so many tiny holes and even dug out a few old toggle bolts while getting ready to paint.  I now know why they sell plaster patch in three pound tubs.

We aren't quite done with the room yet, but it is certainly on its way.  The next step is to finish painting the trim and crown molding.  This has been a bit of a process on its own because I had to go through and seal all of the nail holes and sand.  Then I'll need to caulk the seams.  Finally, I'll get to repaint.  But it'll all be worth it in the end.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Our "New" House

Hubby and I took a road trip back in May to celebrate the end of the semester for me and a successful exam sitting for him.  It was nine days of just us and our convertible.  While on the trip we talked a lot about our dreams for a home, most likely sparked by the incessant advertisements about buying homes and the fact that we kept taking random country back roads with the most adorable houses ever.  I have a thing for "tiny" homes on big plots of land and every time we take the car out I point them out as we go.

Fast forward to July.  On  a whim -- really, I was procrastinating studying -- I decided to look at how much homes are in the area that we live and if any were for sale that might fit our idea of a "tiny" home.  Much to my surprise, there were hundreds of homes available in our price range.  The tough part was finding a home that was what we wanted.  So, I texted hubby at work and said, "We should buy a house."  Much to my surprise, he was on board with the idea and we got pre-approved for the mortgage that night.

We decided that we wanted to buy an old house (1900 to 1930) with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a basement, and a garage.  Plus, we wanted a house that was less than 800 square feet.  Ideally I wanted a detached garage mostly because I like the way that it looks, but I was willing to be flexible.  Being so specific about what we were looking for made finding our house so much easier.  We ended up looking at a total of five homes, but that was a drastically narrowed down list.  Before contacting our realtor about seeing a home we would drive by the house to make sure that the neighborhood felt right.  We would drive past 5 or 6 homes in a trip and rank them by if we wanted to see the inside or not.  This really helped us to narrow down the number of houses that we were willing to see as neither of us wanted to waste our time or our realtor's time.

The first house was a short-sale that already had an offer on it.  We mostly went to see it so that we could get a feel for the realtor and get our feet wet.  The second house we saw was with a different realtor.  That house had black mold in the basement -- a total deal breaker -- and we didn't like the realtor as much.

Then we scheduled three house visits in one day.  All three of the homes were within a half mile of each other, so it made sense to see them all at once.  The first home was a super cute 550 square foot home that had been recently updated.  It didn't have a garage and was a bit more expensive than the others.  Plus, it was being sold by Landbank which meant that we needed to use down payment assistance to qualify for the house.  Needless to say, we decided to pass on that house.  The second house is the house we ended up buying, so I'll talk more about that below.  The final house was a complete disaster on the inside.  I kid you not, there was shag carpet with a smiley face on the front door.


We were so completely impressed with the second house.  It had hardwood floors throughout, recent updates to the outside (siding and roof), new windows, a huge yard, and it was the perfect price.  Plus, it met almost all of our criteria.  It is a two bedroom home with one bathroom and built in 1930.  It has a basement and an attached one car garage.  The only problem is that it is 896 square feet, but we were willing to compromise on the size.  In fact, our realtor was hesitant to show us the house because it was a good deal larger than the other houses we had looked at.  We put our offer in on it that very night!

After much irritation with the lender, which I won't go into here, we closed on September 18th.  We moved in the following weekend and have been here for just over a month now.  Being a homeowner is an amazing feeling.  Knowing that someday this house will be paid off and ours is pretty neat.  Plus, hubby trusts my "vision" for the inside, so I've started making it our own -- more to come on that later.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Back to Blogging

A lot has happened during the 276 days that I wasn't blogging.  I finally decided that I either needed to delete my blog or start writing again because it was making me sad to see my blog languish when so much as happened.  It turns out that the hardest part about starting is actually the starting.

Since my last post a lot has happened in Smith Land:

  • I passed my criminology area exam -- the focus of my last few posts and the main reason that I stopped writing.
  • Hubby and I bought a new car.
  • I got back on facebook.
  • Hubby and I bought a house.
  • I wrote my second area exam on research methods and am now waiting for the oral defense date in a couple of weeks.
  • Hubby continues to study for his exam that is coming up at the end of the month.
  • I am teaching a new course in criminology to seniors.
I am hoping to share the ins and outs of our doings here since facebook still isn't the place to have extended discussions about Smith Land.  While facebook is great for staying in contact with friends and family, I still don't see it as the creative outlet that I need for ideas and such.  That being said, the purpose of my blog is probably going to shift a bit towards discussing what's going on my life and my head and less about minimalism.  There are many great minimalist blogs out there and I've come to realize that mine will never reach that wide of an audience.  However, I can make difference by writing about my teaching, my learning, and our adventures.

The next few posts will focus on all of the changes that we've made and where we hope to go from here.  




Monday, January 7, 2013

Progress happens in tiny steps

Being an academic is great . . . most of the time.  I get winter break and summers off from going to campus, even though I continue to work from home.  However, hubby can attest to the crazy that too much time off can cause since it usually involves me cleaning the house like a crazy person and rearranging our furniture, which often leads to additional decluttering.

Living in the Midwest for over a year has taught me a valuable lesson:  I am a child of the sun.  Too little sunlight and I tend to go batty.  There is no such thing as too much sunshine.  So, why hubby and I decided to put my desk is our bedroom is beyond me.  It's the darkest room in the apartment and has terrible reading light.  After much discussion, we decided that I should move to the living room, but we didn't have enough room for both of our desks.  Since my desk is actually meant for two people, we decided to try out sharing the desk.  Of course, now we look like super nerds when we're both computing at the same time.



Since things are working out just fine with the two of us sharing a desk, probably because we're rarely home at the same time these days, we decided to find a new home for hubby's old desk.  It had made many moves with us and was quite beat up, so we ended up taking it apart and putting it in the trash can.  I hate that we couldn't donate it, but the desk was much to abused to have a found a home.

Unfortunately, I didn't count furniture as "items" in the challenge, but it seems a natural consequence of reducing our belongings that furniture would eventually go as well.