Tag Archives: Simple Living

Luxury vs. necessity: Are Americans confused?

Over the weekend, I found this interesting study from Pew Research on a blog I read. Survey respondents were asked to rate how necessary different household devices are to their lives and whether or not they consider them to be luxuries.

Respondents answered the question “Do you pretty much think of this as a necessity or pretty much think of it as a luxury you could do without” for the items on the right. I find the results shocking.

I wasn’t surprised to see that 86 percent of people consider their car to be a necessity. Depending on where you live, it can be pretty difficult to get around without a car. It’s sad to me that more communities haven’t embraced public transportation, but since I now live in one of them, I have to admit that our (one) car is pretty much a necessity for us. Without it, my husband wouldn’t be able to get to and from his job, which pays the rent and buys us groceries.

I was surprised, however, to see that more than half of respondents rated their home air conditioning and clothes dryer as a necessity. Really? Don’t get me wrong, I love air conditioning as much as the next person (especially now that I’m pregnant), but I also recognize that it’s one of the most decadent luxuries we enjoy in this country.

I’d say the same for my clothes dryer. Is line drying convenient? Not always. But it is something that everyone can do. And if you’re not willing to line dry, chances are you live near a laundromat.

I’m equally shocked that 47 percent of people think their cell phone is a necessity, 45 percent of people don’t think they couldn’t live without a microwave, 42 percent think their television is a necessity, and 21 percent even consider their dishwasher a necessity. And don’t even get me started on the 23 percent who think cable TV is a necessity or the 10 percent of people who can’t live without a flat screen TV. That is insanity.

These numbers show just how confused a lot of people in this country are when it comes to what they really need. I’d consider pretty much everything on this list a luxury. Do these things make life easier for us? Yes. By definition, that’s what luxuries do. They make life easier and more comfortable. But we don’t need them to survive.

It’s scary to think that so many people are confused about the difference between what’s necessary and what’s convenient. For necessities, we have no choice but to find a way to afford them. Things like food, clean drinking water, shelter, and medical care. But when you believe that things like air conditioning and clothes dryers and cable television are necessities, it’s harder to give up these luxuries when money is tight.

What do you think? Do you find this poll as shocking as I do?

Chart courtesy of Pew Research

iPhone apps that make my life easier

My friend Kacie is thinking about getting a smart phone. She’s been asking me lots of questions about my iPhone, and she requested that I share some of my favorite apps here. Okay!

As someone who doesn’t talk on the phone a lot, I use it more for browsing the Internet and applications than I do for talking. If you’re like me and you’re not a big cell phone user, you might consider getting an iPod Touch instead. Having instant access to the Internet without wi-fi is a really convenient perk, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to spend the extra money on your cell phone bill.

Here are the ways that the iPhone has made my life easier:

Maps

I am perpetually lost. I have a terrible sense of direction, and even when someone gives me explicit directions, it’s easy for me to get turned around anyway. Now that I have GPS on my iPhone, even if I take a wrong turn, I can map a new course to help me find my way back. The maps aren’t also completely accurate, but they’re usually accurate enough to help me find my way.

Scheduling

I’ve never been able to get it together enough to use a day planner. I always forget to enter appointments or lose the thing entirely. My iPhone calendar is the closest I’ve come to organizing various dates and appointments. I love that I can choose multiple times to alert myself, and because it’s my phone, I check it frequently enough to see when things are coming up.

Comparison shopping

Have you ever bought something for what you thought was a great price, and then kicked yourself later when you found it on sale for cheaper somewhere else? It seems that no matter how much comparison shopping you do beforehand, it’s easy to end up in this positive. I always do a quick search on my iPhone before I buy to make sure that no one else is selling it for cheaper right now.

Road trips

The iPhone has absolutely changed long car trips for us. We invested $30 in an FM transmitter that allows us to broadcast the iPhone through a radio station. In addition to letting us play music from my iPod library, it allows us to listen to episodes of This American Life on its incredible iPhone app and catch up on the news with the NPR News app. We used to burn a ton of CDs with music and podcasts before hitting the road, but now all we need is my tiny little iPhone.

Skype

I haven’t actually tested this yet, so I’ll have to follow when we get back from Europe, but I’m planning on using Skype to help us stay in touch with family while we’re out of the country. Roaming phone and data charges are incredibly expensive overseas. I plan to keep my phone on Airplane Mode while we’re out of the country. This basically turns it into an iPod Touch. I’ll still be able to connect to wi-fi where ever it’s available, which means we can use the Skype app to make phone calls at much cheaper rates. If we connect with other Skype users, it’s even free.

Online banking

Because we keep the bulk of our money in savings accounts, our checking account balance is typically pretty low. It’s really important that we keep up with transactions to make sure we’re not overspending. I often log into our checking account to make sure all of the bills are withdrawing as they should. I also use the Mint.com app occasionally to check our budget and see how we’re doing.

Fitness

The Couch to 5K app made training for my 5K a lot easier and more.

Social Networking

While it’s not the most productive use for a smart phone, connecting to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks where ever you are is a definite perk for smart phones. It makes waiting in a long line much more bearable, and it’s definitely fun to snap a picture and immediately upload it to Facebook or Flickr when I see something interesting.

Do you have a smart phone? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post in any way by AT&T or Apple. But it sure would be nice if they sent me a new iMac. :)

Photo by chanc

Turn off the lights to conserve energy & save money

This past Saturday, cities and households throughout the world observed Earth Hour. Once a year, families, businesses, and cities shut off the lights for one hour to raise awareness about energy conservation.

Tony and I observed the tradition with candles, an game of Battleship, and Jones Soda root beer, and it was actually a lot of fun. It reminded me of summer power outages when I was a kid when we suddenly had to find creative ways to entertain ourselves.

Shutting off the lights doesn’t just conserve energy, though. It also reduces energy costs and promotes quality time with family. Shutting off computers, televisions, and video games — even for an hour — is a great way to reconnect. All of the benefits made me wonder — why don’t we observe Earth hours more frequently?

Every year, my older sister and her family shut off the lights, eat canned foods, and enjoy an entire weekend with limited energy use. For them, the tradition is a chance to embrace simplicity. It’s also a reminder of how life would be without electricity.

If you’re trying to conserve energy and lower your electricity costs, consider a weekly or monthly “earth hour.” Stock up on candles and flashlight batteries, and plan a fun night with these power-free activities.

  • Play board games or cards.
  • Tell stories.
  • Read or write by candlelight.
  • Prepare a meal that doesn’t require electricity.

How did you observe Earth Hour?

Boxed in

The image you’re about to see may disturb you. Viewing this image is not recommended for people sensitive to clutter, disorganization, and mess. Potential side effects include headache, shortness or breath, difficulty concentrating, and severe writer’s block. View at your own risk.

This is the current state of my guest room and, consequently, the current state of my brain:

Somewhere under this pile of boxes and junk there is a bed and a desk and even a floor. Sadly, you can’t see any of that.

This mess has been accumulating for the past six months. At Christmas, new things left a lot of our old stuff homeless. Of course, I should have been getting rid of things then. But a funny thing happens when I know a move is coming. I start putting things off.

“I’ll be going through everything in a few months when we’re packing. I’ll deal with this then.”

Clutter began to accumulate a little at a time. A few boxes here; a pile of books there. We couldn’t decide whether we should sell our old TV, give it to Goodwill, or bring it with us — into the guest room it went. We¬† bought a used TV, and it was shipped to us in its original packaging. We thought it would be nice to keep the box so we could pack the TV in it when we move — into the guest room that went. A co-worker kindly gave us a trunk load of good moving boxes. I’m sure you see where this is going.

Now this room haunts my nightmares. I just keep closing the door tight, trying to pretend that mess isn’t there. Unfortunately, it’s a symptom of a much bigger problem, though. The guest room is ground zero, but there are tiny little catastrophe zones throughout our apartment. Closets, drawers, cupboards, shelves — all piled with junk I’ll have to sort and pack.

We’re moving in about 6 weeks. During my least anxious times, I tell myself that’s plenty of time. But then I open that guest room door, and I’m reminded of just how much I have to do.

What I mean to say is I have a lot on my mind right now, and a to-do list that’s a mile long. I do most of my writing on the weekends, and unfortunately that’s also the only time I can focus on decluttering, packing, and planning. My brain looks a lot like that room right now, and sorting out the mess to find inspiration is becoming harder and harder. Something has to give.

Since I started this blog almost two years ago, I’ve updated most weekdays. For the next 6 weeks, I will likely be posting every other day. I don’t plan to disappear for days or weeks at a time, but cutting down a little will help my sanity immensely.

I can’t guarantee that this will be the last time I whine. Please be patient with me as I attempt to navigate a lot of stress.

How are you doing? I’m happy to join your pity party if you’d like to whine a little. :)

On your mark, get set …

Tomorrow afternoon, we set sail for a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. I so need some sunshine and relaxation.

Taking time off from my day job was easy. Unfortunately, taking time off from my own to-do list, worries, and work isn’t so easy.

It’s been months since we took real time off to relax, and no matter how much I plan to relax in Europe, I know better. With all the travel and things to do, I doubt we’ll have much time to just be.

Our trip this weekend is different, though. We don’t have high expectations or a long to-see list. I have no itinerary and no plans. We planned for this cruise to be our chance to recharge and refresh ourselves before the craziness coming up. The past few months have been hectic, and the months ahead will be even more so. We need to take some time to ourselves to reflect on what’s coming up and prepare for what’s ahead.

So I’m requesting time off from myself. I need a few days to collect my thoughts. I need time to read a book without feeling guilty about everything else I should be doing. I need to spend some real time with my husband talking and planning for the near future without work between us.

Tony is guilty, too. With his thesis due at the end of next week and graduation quickly approaching, I feel like his computer has become permanently appended to his lap. It’s rare that I’m able to pull him away from his work for a real conversation.

Because the weekends are when I do most of my writing for this site, posting may be light next week. I hope to catch up early in the week, but there’s no telling what my schedule will be like when we return.

After this trip, it’s time to get serious about packing our lives and moving north. It’s time to prepare ourselves for a new home, new jobs, and what will surely feel like a new life. So much is changing so soon. I hope we’re able to stop the clock, if only for a weekend.

Photo by lynnoel

Simple ways to save time and reduce stress

As I try to stay sane for the next couple months despite my mile-long to-do list, I’m looking for quick and easy ways to reduce stress.

Here are a few things I’ve tried in the past few weeks that have helped immensely.

Plan ahead.

At the beginning of each day (or each week), take a few minutes to make a rough outline of what needs to be completed and when. It may feel like you don’t have time to stop and regroup before you tackle the day, but making a game plan will help you prioritize tasks, manage your time more efficiently, and keep you on task.

Delegate and ask for help.

It may seem like you’re on your own, but chances are your support network is more willing to help than you think. Enlist your spouse, children, or co-workers to handle appropriate tasks on your to-do list. Once you’ve mapped out your game plan for the day or week, figure out which tasks would make the most sense to outsource.

Deal with it now.

I have a tendency to let a million little things pile up in my life. I leave a ton of emails in my inbox. I let the junk mail pile up on the kitchen table. I wait until the last possible minute to do everything.

If you want to cut your stress instantly, try taking care of those little bothersome things right away. Archive or delete every email as soon as you’ve read it. Throw junk mail into the recycling bin as soon as you’ve read it. Wash your dishes as soon as you finish eating. By taking a little time to take care of this stuff as it happens, you’ll reduce the total number of items looming over you on your to-do list.

Make your health a priority.

You may be tempted to give up relaxation, exercise, or sleep in favor of work or chores. When you sacrifice your health, you’re not at the top of your game, which will lead to less productivity. Take the time to take care of yourself, and you’ll get more done in less time, leaving you with more hours in the day when your work is done.

Photo by charliedees

Setting boundaries to maintain my sanity

With everything that’s happening right now, I’ve been more than a little overwhelmed. I’ve been thinking of ways to cut down on stress and make time for the things that relax me.

The line between work, home, and work-at-home has become too blurry. Chores around the house are being neglected, and I feel like I’m constantly “on the lock.” I’ve decided to set some boundaries for the next couple months to keep me focused and give me time to chill out.

No laptop in bed.

One of the things I miss most when life gets hectic is reading fiction. When I’m stressed, nothing is more relaxing than forgetting about my to-do and immersing myself in a book. Stress also leads to insomnia for me, especially when I’m working right up until I try to sleep. Reading before bed calms me and takes my mind off the stress in the moments before I sleep.

Solution: I’ve banned myself from bringing my laptop to bed with me. For the past week, I’ve been forcing myself to read instead of work or plan, and it’s definitely helping me sleep better and relax a little in the evening. It also gives me an opportunity to spend time with my husband without our laptops between us.

Set time limits.

Since I work full time throughout the week, I do the bulk of my personal planning and projects on the weekends. Since the weekends are my only chance to relax, working too much on Saturday and Sunday cuts back on my “me” time. I feel like I spend all morning working and the afternoons are eaten up by errands and household chores.

Solution: Weekend days are now “work days” with the same limits. I work 8:30 to 5:30 on the weekdays, so why should I be on the clock non-stop on Saturday and Sunday? I’ll spend weekend mornings planning, writing and working until 2 p.m. From 2 to 5:30 p.m., I’ll get household chores done, but the weekend evenings are mine to relax, exercise, and spend time with Tony.

I’m making myself and my family a priority.

I think we all have a tendency to put what we can on the back burner when time is limited. That means that the things and people we love most often get the shaft. I’m definitely guilty of this. If I’m busy, my work out is the first thing I cut. After that, I’m likely to sacrifice time with my husband if I’ve got a lot going on. But why should the things that are most important to me take a backseat?

Solution: The things that are most important to me are non-negotiable. I’m limiting “overtime” when it comes to personal projects. During the times that I’ve allotted to myself and my family, taking me time and being with my husband are the only things on my to-do list.

Have you set boundaries for your sanity? What would your rules be?

Photo by redvers

On accepting my own limitations

Lately, I’d give anything for an extra 12 hours in the day. Between full-time work, daily blogging, my book project, exercise, household chores, and spending time with my husband, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Add to that our travel plans and moving preparations, and I’m completely overwhelmed.

Then there are the projects that I want to do that I just can’t fit into my schedule — the books on my to-read list, the unfinished quilts that have collected dust for 3 years, the piles and piles of clutter that need to be cleared before we pick up and move again, the movies I’ve yet to see, and my poor dog who isn’t walked nearly enough.

I wish I had a solution, but honestly, I don’t. I love that I have such a varied list of interests, and I love that my busy schedule keeps me from ever feeling bored. But I hate the way it feels to see the book on my nightstand, and the bookmark that serves as a painful reminder that I’ve yet to make a dent in it. I hate the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach when I look at my guest room, crammed full of stuff that I haven’t even touched months. I miss having the time to do my favorite relaxing projects that I love — quilting and reading and photography.

It seems that the only solution is to give some of it up, but I can’t choose. So I end up back at the same place — struggling to balance the things that I must do with the things that I love.

As kids, we’re told that we can do it all. As adults, we face the tough reality that it’s just not possible.

How do you find a balance?

Countdown to Europe and moving — Four months to go

The end of the holiday season was particularly bittersweet for me. We’re moving and taking a trans-Atlantic vacation in 120 days, and it’s finally time for me to start doing all the things I’ve been putting off until “after the holidays.” It’s so exciting, but overwhelming, too.

I’ve been breaking everything down month-by-month to make sure I get it all done. Here’s what’s on my plate for January.

Moving

Last month I set a date for our move and booked the movers and the truck. We’re renting a U-Haul and hiring a moving company to load up the truck. I don’t know if I’ve written about this before, but honestly, even though loading the truck ourselves would be more frugal, hiring people to do it is the best $150 I will ever spend. We’re on the third floor, and it’s just us. Knowing that two professionals will be here to lug our heavy possessions down three flights of wind-y stairs takes a huge load off my mind.

Just before the holidays I also informed my boss and co-workers that I’ll be leaving in May. My plan was to make an announcement in March, but the other employee in my department is pregnant and due in June. I felt like it was only fair to let everyone know well in advance so they could plan for both of us to leave around the same time.

We’re also continuing to declutter, but that’s not going as well as I’d hoped. :( I’m hoping the New Year will motivate me to really start getting rid of stuff so we can lighten our load.

Europe

For Christmas, Tony’s parents got me a couple of frugal vacation planning books for Paris and London. This month I plan to read through them and make a to-do list based on the tips I find valuable.

Since our flight and hotels are already booked, there isn’t much left to do beyond deciding what to see in the cities and getting our passports. This month we’ll be taking care of the passports to make sure we have plenty of time.

Everything is coming together nicely. Here’s hoping it’s smooth sailing from here to May.

Photo by tahir