Monthly Archives: February 2014

Meaningless Fluff vs. College Funds

This morning I heard a shocking statistic on the radio. I hope it is not accurate. The DJ stated 9 in 10 parents are unable to save anything for their children’s future. Not unwilling, but unable, which is quite a different thing. They also stated the national average cost per child per month is around $800. This cost is mostly due to daycare expenses for young children, though I imagine sports leagues and clubs make up the cost as they grow older.

This unnerves me. Perhaps it is striking too close to home. We are actively paying off D’s truck as quickly as possible and have plans to tackle the mortgage next. We are also still recovering our savings from the foundation repair. With that said, we are not in a great financial situation, but we are putting aside $20 a month for Rie. Right now that does not seem like much, but by investing and increasing that amount once our debts are paid, she should have something to start her adult life.

Some people argue that children shouldn’t have any savings gifted to them by their parents. Maybe they are putting all of their hopes on scholarships. What I have heard argued, however, is that kids need to find jobs and figure it out on their own. I agree to a point. Kids should not be taught to feel entitled to the fruits of their parents’ labor, but they also need a little help to get ahead. My guidance comes from Proverbs 13:22: “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children” (NIV).

My personal financial dream, since before she was conceived, has been to pay for Rie’s undergraduate degree. This means that when she has an entry-level job she won’t have student loans stopping her from buying a house or going to graduate school, or traveling the world, or whatever. If she decides college is not for her, I hope the money we save can be put toward some other investment, such as a house, or a fund for her children.

What does this have to do with leading a minimalistic lifestyle? Everything. Every tube of lipstick I refuse to purchase is another bit saved or paid toward the mortgage. Every time I bypass the paper napkins in the store and use cloth I am keeping money in my pocket (and having classier meals). Every time I resist the urge to buy a cute, cheap, toy for Rie, she has another drop of financial wealth in her future.

Let me add a note to point out being minimal does not mean going without. For example, my merino wool tee-shirts, of which I have two, are absolutely luxurious. Because they last longer than cotton tee-shirts they will save us money in the long run. We have everything we need plus some nice indulgences – without the throw-away, meaningless fluff. It is the lack of meaningless fluff that will pay for Rie’s college.

2/28/14 Edited to add: D read this post and thought it sounded awfully judgmental on parents who do not save for their children’s futures. I was very sorry to hear that and hope no one else thought that is what I meant to communicate. The purpose here is just to state what works for our family and why. Thanks for reading!

Changing of the Guard at the Pantry

When D and I first married I managed our pantry and menus well, if I may say so. I went shopping Sunday afternoon, after making a menu for the week. That same day produce would be washed and chopped as needed. For the rest of the week all I needed to do was assemble the meals. Easy, fresh, and very little waste.

Fast forward. When I was working full time and going to graduate school, D had the luxury of being a stay-at-home-husband while pursuing his own studies. He took over the shopping and cooking and I turned my attention elsewhere. That is to say, I had little idea at any given time of what was in our pantry.

Fast forward again. Now D and I are both working full-time while caring for our 13-month-old. D just returned to his studies, which means it is my turn to step up to the shopping/cooking plate (pun intended). Problems faced with this changing of the guard: I am officially out-of-touch with my meal preparation repertoire, since the last time I was in charge of cooking we have introduced a dairy allergy into our home, and the pantry is full of ingredients I have never used before. Like quinoa. The last time I was in charge of cooking quinoa wasn’t even in my vocabulary.

I gave myself a couple weeks to get my cooking-legs back under me and then I started to focus on the pantry. Before shot from Friday the 7th:

Pantry Before

No telling what lies below…

First I had to get organized. Organizing and minimizing are not the same thing, I don’t care what the magazines say, but in this case, it was very much needed. Expired items were tossed. Duplicates were combined. Like items grouped together. Here are the after pictures from Friday the 7th:

Left-Pantry After

baking supplies on top two shelves, teas, coffee, and honey on the bottom

Right-Pantry After

Canned goods and unopened duplicates on top, grains, bread, tortillas, pasta in middle, dried fruit, baby snacks, peanut butter, crackers, and dog treats on bottom

Next I made the week’s menu based on what was already in the pantry (novel idea!). This was easy, because I already had a strengthening grip of the shopping/cooking. I decided to give myself a week with the new organization system, go shopping again, and take another picture to see how I would fare. Saturday the 15th:

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Hardly a difference.

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Baby snacks have been reduced. Some items were depleted/re-purchased. We have more than we need for a week before going back to the store.

My goal in this area is to continue to reduce how much we keep on hand. This is a tough balance, because when you have a small child you live in fear of having to take her to the store. I have been looking to Zero Waste Home for some ideas. Another book from which I take a few tips is Your Grocery Budget Toolbox.

By the way, I’ll be making a quinoa bean salad this week. Wish me luck!

Snow Date

There is usually an upside to everything. Even a huge snowstorm.

Last Friday after the baby went to sleep, D arranged a snow date for us grown-ups.

Snow Date

We bundled up in coats and blankets and sat by a fire. The surrounding snow hardly noticed. The hot tea was especially comforting. We talked and talked about…well, I don’t even know.

The downside was we could only stand it for about half an hour – but we were close to home and made a quick escape.

Rie’s Room

D made the crib.

D used his mad skills to design and make the crib.

Rie kind of has the run of the whole house. She keeps some toys in the living room (affectionately known as “play station 1”) and some in her room (“play station 2”, naturally). Nothing really has a set place, I only ask that it appear tidy/or have the ability to look tidy in less than a minute. The inspiration to keep Rie’s room clear of clutter comes from having read the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

Rie's toy shelf

The books are not always lined up so neatly – but generally this is how play station two appears. The goal here is that you can see all of the toys, and they are all within Rie’s reach. I recently found out there is a name for this type of organization – Montessori. Of course, there has to be a name for everything!

Rie’s dresser is nice and large. It holds bedding, clothes, first aid stuff, bath stuff, and what-have-you, but it is actually mostly empty.

The bottom left-hand drawer is where we dump all of the toys that do not fit onto the shelves. At first Rie always wanted to play in this drawer, but now she basically sticks to what is out in plain sight.

bottom left-hand drawer

Mostly stuffed animals, but there are some pleasant surprises in there.

The top right-hand drawer holds all of Rie’s week-day clothes that currently fit and are appropriate for the season. Her winter “uniform” is a short-sleeved bodysuit under a long-sleeved shirt, and jeans or sweat pants. We have enough for about seven different outfits, plus seven sets of PJ’s. Rie can wear some things twice before they have to go into the laundry, so this is more than enough for a week.

Enough clothes for 6 days: long and short sleeved shirts, pants, sleepwear, and hair bows.

In the closet you’ll find clothes in the next size up, jackets, and some dressier things for Sunday. Honestly, Rie doesn’t even wear a dress every Sunday, due to the cold and her inability to preserve her modesty. On the shelf are the books more appropriate for an older child, and baby gear we are storing for the possibility of a second child.

Clothes in the next size up, along with books more appropriate for an older child. The bottles in the box and bottle-steamer are being stored for the possibility of another child.

Rie really does have a nice closet, with shelves on the side. I use those shelves to store shoes in the bigger sizes (hand-me-downs), extra blankets, baby shampoo that was gifted when I was pregnant, and some other odds and ends.

Excess baby gifts: soaps, shoes, blankets, and toys.When you have a young kiddo who is growing so quickly and also hoping to add another kiddo, the baby stuff can be difficult to keep to a minimum. Fortunately I was able to loan out some baby gear to friends, so we are not storing a ton of stuff. We still have some work to do in terms of only keeping toys Rie actually uses and not over-buying clothes (I blame the grandmothers), but I think we’re moving along nicely.

Books

I have a master’s degree in literature. Do I need to say anything else to convince you of how much I love books? In the woman den you will find two boxes of books that represent my academic journey and I have not yet decided what to do with them. Nearly all of the books I saved are difficult enough to find in hard copy, let alone in an electronic format. That is a topic for another day.

Today I am going to pretend that only the books displayed in my home are all the books D and I own. I am not counting Rie’s library, mainly because it is much too mobile about the house to keep an accurate headcount.

As of today, books occupy just one shelf of our bookcase. Some are handy references, such as Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, and Breastfeeding Made Simple. Some are sentimental, such as my grandmother’s copy of Little Women, which is stored inside a hollow wooden book.

Deciding which books to keep has been an excruciating process that has taken much more thought than any other area of the house. The entire bookcase plus many boxes were once full of books. I have a Bible collection (Bibles in different languages – great for referencing all sorts of questions about grammar and vocabulary), and I once had an extensive foreign-language dictionary collection as well.

Excruciating.

I most certainly had become someone who defined herself by her possessions. My books were an outward explanation of who I am, or at least who I aspired to be. It is not like I sat around every night reading the Bible in Russian, though I did glance through it once in a while, I mostly just liked the idea of doing it.

My books have forced me to really examine myself. There is a huge difference between actually doing something and just liking the idea of doing it. I love poetry – but I rarely read it on my own anymore. Without some sort of book club that discusses the topics raised, I am not likely to open those books. Ever. Out they go.

Some books represent who I used to be. My childhood copy of Heidi falls into that category. Great book. I loved it. Haven’t read it in over 20 years. Bye-bye Heidi. I’ll catch you one day at the library.

And let’s not go down the I-bought-this-and-thought-it-would-be-great-but-never-cracked-the-spine road, please. It is just embarrassing.

books

Off to the used bookstore with you!

As of today there are just 32 books remaining on the bookshelf. Just one shelf of books. Some are D’s, but most of them are mine. Before the year is over more will be gone, but this is nothing if not a slow work in progress.

My Name is Kate, and I Cloth Diaper My Child

Perhaps you have heard of the huge resurgence of cloth diaper use in the U.S. and Canada. If you’re a parent to a young child, it is kind of difficult to miss. D and I knew before our baby arrived that we would be using cloth diapers. They are arguably better for the environment and can be much cheaper to use than disposables.

Notice the distinction in can be much cheaper. You can buy everything you need from birth to potty training, plus some luxury items, for about $200. This is especially true if one parent can stay home with the little one.

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D and I both work full-time, so we kind of have two stashes. Flats with covers are great for when we’re at home, because they wash so easily. All-in-ones (AIOs) and All-in-Twos (AI2s) are perfect for the babysitters, because they are easy to use. We spent about $500 on all of our cloth diapering supplies – and we’re saving everything for the possibility of a second child. Though we spent quite a bit more on our cloth diapers than needed, we are still coming out ahead as compared to using disposables.

Fortunately, I discovered literature on minimalism before Rie grew too much. It would have been so easy to become caught up in the cloth diaper craze. What’s that, you say? How in the world can people become crazed about diapers? It’s easy. They are cute. They come in all sorts of different colors and prints. With all of the different designs and materials to try, it only takes a quick hop down the rabbit hole to get carried away. Though considered to be “green”, cloth diapering is a booming industry that can take advantage of consumers just as easily as any other.

I bring all of this up because I have lurked on cloth diapering boards and have witnessed the addiction other parents are experiencing. There is an urban legend about a woman who paid $200 for a used cloth diaper on eBay because it was in a print that is no longer produced. I wonder how that conversation went with her significant other when the credit card bill arrived. On a more day-to-day basis, you will hear about people who need to “de-stash” (sell some diapers) because they have accidentally gone overboard and realized they have a dresser full of cloth diapers. It happens more often than you might think.

Recently, D and I had the good fortune to meet an expectant mother who is preparing to cloth diaper. She was overwhelmed by the hype over certain kinds of diapers, which kinds of materials are best, and how to wash her diapers (washing diapers is another hot industry right now – there is a wide variety of “cloth safe” soaps are on the market). Below are some of the tips we gave this soon-to-be mama. I share them here for anyone else who is considering joining the cloth-diapering community:

  • Keep your wash routine simple. Don’t try to troubleshoot any problems until you actually have problems. If you want to use the same detergent/soap that you use on your baby’s clothing, that’s fine. If you want to buy a special cloth diaper soap, that’s fine too.
  • Err on the side of minimal. If your kid is going to be in daycare, then three days’ worth of cloth diapers would be handy. If you’re able to stay home and do laundry every day or every other day, just 1½ or 2½  days’ worth of diapers is fine.
  • Use cloth wipes. They go in the same pail as your cloth diapers and can be washed with them. This actually simplifies the process – no need to remember to separate disposable wipes into a trash can.
  • Do not get caught up in collecting cute prints or special edition diapers. They don’t hold their value and your kid is going to do horrible things to them. Remember, though cute, they are still just diapers.

You are the best gift you can give your family

tufted titmouse

tufted titmouse – very common around here during winter

Ever since I was a child I knew I wanted to have children. I “mothered” my younger sister, friends, and even college roommates.

D and I were so young when we married. We have crossed many milestones together: college, graduate school, buying a house, vamping up our careers.

Along the way there were babies lost. Four, actually. With each one gone I became a little colder about the loss. This was my way of preparing myself for the fact that children may not be in God’s plan for our life.

I will never, ever forget the morning after my 12 week sonogram. There had been a complication early on in my fifth pregnancy and we went in to see how things were going. The complication had resolved itself and we were in the clear. The next day D greeted me with, “Good morning, mommy of a healthy baby.” Joy rushed through my whole body and I relaxed and really let myself feel that joy until my bones were saturated with it. I wasn’t cold anymore.

Before Rie came along I would cringe every time someone complained about their kids being annoying, energetic, curious, or some other unforgivable adjective commonly associated with children. As times changed and technology became more widespread, I hated to see parents and/or kids on their devices when out to dinner. But Rie is here now and I can focus all of my attention on her without lamenting others’ mistakes as their parenthood to young children slips away.

Yet I still feel the need to bring this issue up. In a twisted way, I am fortunate I had to face the possibility of not becoming a parent, because it makes me a better mother. Yes, I’m tired and sometimes I think I cannot bear another recital of Pat the Bunny, but that does not mean I am not thankful to be reading it for the twentieth time today. I am so very thankful.

Rie is special to me, but she is not all that unusual of a child. She craves my attention and affection. She can play independently with her toys, but her favorite toy is time with Mommy or Daddy, or one of her beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles…you get the idea. The best gift I can give to her is my undivided attention. For that matter, it is the best gift I can give to my husband and everyone else I love.

My wish for Rie and for D is that they will look back on our time together fondly and never doubt how much I love them.This past weekend I ignored social media. We don’t have TV, so nothing needed to be turned off there. We went to the aquarium. We made soap together (while Rie was napping – toddlers and lye do not mix!). We watched birds through the picture window.

Downy woodpecker and chickadee

L to R: male downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee

It was absolutely the best weekend we have had in months.

So now I have a new minimizing goal: no more social media in the evenings at home or more than once a day on the weekends. Like clearing out the mess that stops us from enjoying our home, I am clearing out the mess that stops us from enjoying each other.