Blog: Simplify Your Life
Frugal Living 101 -- Your Living Environment
I have been reading stories all over the internet about how house sizes are shrinking -- folks are (finally) realizing what an economic burden and a maintenance nightmare the "McMansion" is, and are shifting to smaller and more manageable living environments. Matt and I moved from a 2-story house to a 29-foot Airstream so we could live more affordably while traveling the country -- but you don't have to hit the road to reduce your housing costs!
A House That Costs Less
If you're like most people, your home is your major monthly expense. It's not unusual these days for rent and mortgage payments to eat up a third or more of your disposable income. A lot of folks are finding themselves "house poor," with every penny they make going toward their living environment. That's just crazy! But the good news is that every single one of these expenses can be reduced -- you just have to think a little differently about that roof over your head.
- how much home do you really need? (more is better in America, at least that's what the advertisements tell you! -- here are some interesting facts from the National Association Of Home Builders and the National Census -- in 1950, the average American home in was 983 square feet and household size was 3.37 people, which translates into 292 square feet per person -- by the mid-2000's, home size had risen to 2,349 square feet and household size had dropped to 2.61, leaving folks with 900 square feet per person -- of course you want enough room to be comfortable, but there comes a point when a large home is simply too big for you to maintain on your own -- chores like housecleaning, yard work, and repairs become unreasonably time-consuming, possibly even unmanageable without paying for outside help -- wouldn't it be nice to devote less energy on the upkeep of your living environment, and more on actually living? -- Thoreau was quite comfortable in 150 square feet on Walden Pond, intentionally simplifying his material world so he would have the freedom to contemplate and philosophize and suck the marrow from life -- are you sucking the marrow from your life? -- do you have enough time for all the projects and activities and people that you claim are a priority to you? -- or are you always too busy with that "honey-do" list to get around to the really important stuff? -- and don't forget that, with increased home sizes, prices have gone up, too -- again according to the Census, that modern-day home costs about 3x what the 1950's house did, in inflation-adjusted dollars -- if your casa feels like a burden, the way ours did, it might be time to ask yourself if you have more house than you really need)
- reconsider your layout (what is it that makes houses so dadgummed big these days? -- Matt and I are perfectly content to share less than 200 square feet -- but then again, we haven't set aside entire rooms of our home just for games or watching television or entertaining -- our spaces are multipurpose -- for example, in an Airstream, the living room converts to an office during work hours, then to a dining room at meal times, then to our bedroom at night -- this might seem like an extreme case of downsizing, but it's actually not that unreasonable, when you realize that most people spend the bulk of their time in one or two rooms of their home -- I'm not suggesting that you need to move to an efficiency or an RV in order to simplify! -- but think about how much of your home is unused on a daily basis, saved for special occasions or special activities -- why? -- where is it written that you must have both a breakfast nook and a "formal" dining room? -- a den and a "formal" living room -- who lives that formally these days?? -- take a second to do a quick inventory -- make a list of all the rooms in your house, and then estimate how much time you spend in each during an average month -- you may discover that you've got a lot of wasted space, parts of your home that really do nothing except store furniture, need to be cleaned, and cost money -- and in the course of simplifying, you may consider downsizing to eliminate those unnecessary rooms)
- look at your location (have you become disenchanted with your neighborhood? -- maybe you were willing to pay more for a good school district back in the day, but now your kids are grown and gone -- perhaps the cost of living has slowly crept upward over the years to the point that you can barely afford the property taxes -- you might have changed to a job on the other side of town, and your commute has grown to 3 hours round trip each day -- or you think about how this used to be such a nice quiet place to live, but now it's noisy and overdeveloped and just not where you want to be -- it's not at all unusual to find that your neighborhood just doesn't meet your needs anymore -- places change, people change, priorities change, and it's amazing how much a simple geographic shift can positively impact both your quality of life and your wallet -- if the country club and the homeowner's association are no longer worth the cost to you, ditch them -- if you're being priced out of the market, go find a cheaper house in an up-and-coming transitional area -- if the commute is driving you crazy and costing you a fortune in gas, move closer to your job -- we did that in the 90's, going from a 2BR apartment in the burbs to a 1BR condo in-town, a block and a half from Matt's company -- he got up about 5 minutes before he had to be at work, walked to the office, and was able to come home to exercise, eat lunch, and even take a nap -- the convenience, reduced stress, and cost-savings more than balanced out the smaller living space, and our quality of life shot through the roof -- if you could change just one thing about your location, what would it be?)
- clear out the excess (it's a fact of life, clutter costs money -- you pay when you bring something new into your life -- you pay every time you have to clean or store or repair it -- you pay when you insure it against loss or damage -- and you're paying big time for the square footage in your home that is given over to things you never use and don't really need -- let me emphasize again that living frugally is not about going without -- if you love it, keep it! -- I'm never going to suggest that you get rid of something that adds value to your life just for the sake of saving money, but why keep a bunch of stuff that serves no purpose? -- the reason it's hard for people to clean out is because so much of our clutter comes out of good intentions and plans for the future -- it's that "I'll use it someday" syndrome -- but the goal here is to take a good hard look at how you actually live your life and only keep those items you truly need -- are you honestly ever going to use that exercise equipment that's been gathering dust in the basement for the past 5 years, or are you more likely to work out if you go to the gym? -- you thought it would be cool to own a pool table, but now it's just a another surface on which to pile papers and laundry and stuff to put away -- and no matter how many cookbooks you buy, you still can't convince yourself that you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen preparing a gourmet meal -- it's time to face facts! -- besides, you might even find a new source of income in selling those things that you never use -- most people have an absolute goldmine cluttering up their closets and attic and basement -- how much could you get for those water skis you haven't touched in 20 years? -- or that silver you got for your wedding, used once, then packed away? -- or that bread machine that you haven't even taken out of the box? -- what if cleaning out valuables that you never use could fund your enjoyment of life today? -- would it be worth letting a few things go?)
- cut back on some services (these days, I don't know too many middle class people who attend entirely to their own household needs without hiring someone else to help out -- in fact, some of my peeps literally have teams of "professionals" coming in every week to water the flowers, clean the bathrooms, pay their bills, make their meals, repaint the guest room, and look after their children -- for many folks, the knee-jerk response when a chore pops up is "hire someone!" -- I certainly understand consulting an expert if a task requires tools/skills you don't have, but so many of these little jobs are things we could do for ourselves but can't seem to find the time to tackle -- we bring in plumbers to unclog our drains, auto mechanics to change a tire, and lawn care people to cut the grass, but it's a vicious cycle -- we hire people because we don't have the time to do the job ourselves, because we're working so many hours to pay the bills for having people do these things for us -- try tackling a few of these tasks yourself, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, then spend the time and money you've saved on your true priorities!)
- get smart about energy (folks love to moan and groan about high utility costs, acting as though they are trapped by their power and gas bills -- but it actually takes very little to keep these expenses under control, just a small bit of advance planning -- for example, it costs almost nothing to install a programmable thermostat, then set the air for 78 degrees in the summer and the heat to come on at 60 degrees in the winter -- changing your air filter regularly also keeps your unit from having to work as hard or use as much energy -- and why waste money "climate controlling" areas of the house that you aren't using? -- a small space heater or a ceiling fan is perfect for heating/cooling one room at a time -- and if you're living in a canned environment 365 days a year, you'll save money and probably feel better if you open the windows and enjoy the fresh air -- washing your clothes in cold water and allowing them to air dry on a rack or clothes line will not only save on utilities, but your wardrobe will last longer -- and if you're feeling really squirrelly, you can also clean your refrigerator coils to improve cooling efficiency, plug up air leaks around doors and windows, lower the temperature on your hot water heater, and wrap the entire unit in an insulating blanket -- last but not least, did you know that any item plugged into a wall socket draws electricity even when it's turned off? -- installing surge protectors on EVERY socket and turning off the main switch when those items aren't being used prevents them drawing "phantom electricity" -- you just cut your power bills by 1/4 to 1/2 with barely any effort -- see how easy that was?!)
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posted on: 6/28/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips
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Simplify Your Life
by Ramona Creel
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I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!
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