Friday, June 19, 2015

“I Hope My Kids Don’t Do This to Me!”





The estate sale I went to last week was a packed one; it was like a museum of my childhood, complete with ash trays with bean-bag bases, thermal coffee mugs with woven-straw sides, and a large wood stereo system on legs just like you would have found in most of the houses in the neighborhoods of my childhood, back in the 1960s.

But what was most memorable about this sale was that on two separate occasions I heard women say, “I hope my kids don’t do this to me!” as they looked at the displays of two elderly folks’ personal possessions.

My goodness, do they think their kids will keep their houses (and contents) intact after they go to a nursing home, or after they die? Something will have to be done with their things, and it’s extremely likely that their kids will do this to them; what other choice will they have? Do they expect them to keep all of it? We’re talking about a houseful of stuff: tables covered in bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, plates, glasses, linens, tools, you name it.

I wanted to tell these women that there is only one way to be sure your kids don’t do this to you, and that’s to go through it yourself while you’re still alive and kicking. Make the tough decisions now so your kids will never have to put all of your things on display for strangers to pick through someday.

As the late Percy Ross used to say, “He who gives while he lives knows where it goes.” Keep only your most favorite and necessary possessions, give the next best items to people you love, and sell or donate the rest. You’ll relieve your kids of a huge burden someday, and you’ll never have to spin in your grave because your home is the site of an estate sale.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Six Reasons Why a Family Might Want a Tiny House





Many of the commenters on this article are questioning why a family would want to live in a tiny house. I can think of several reasons why; they all hinge on the fact that doing so would not be on a whim, but because it makes the most financial sense for a family that’s trying to stay afloat financially in an environment where many jobs are disappearing:


  • Children need stability. If you have to keep moving to find work, it will be stressful on your children. But if you can take your house with you, as you can with a tiny house, they’ll always be able to sleep in their own beds at night.
  • Living in a tiny house may be too much togetherness for some, but it beats having one parent with a job living in one state while the rest of the family lives in another. This is an increasingly common scenario and means kids only see one parent on the weekends. But a tiny house can be moved near the parent’s job so that the kids see both parents on a daily basis.
  • Financially strapped families looking to lower their expenses dramatically (to get in balance with lower incomes) find that their expenses are slashed by moving into a tiny house. No more five-figure property taxes, no more high utility bills, no more expensive home maintenance; it makes a huge difference on your bottom line.
  • A tiny house can be parked on land owned by relatives or friends; if the family pays a little rent for use of the land, they’ll provide extra income for the landowner. If the family can’t pay rent due to job loss, the landowner can help out the family by letting them live on his/her property until they find work again.
  • As rent prices go up (an ongoing trend), a family with a declining income must struggle to keep a roof over their heads. But the family that buys a tiny home will never have that problem.
  • The young couple that wants to start a family but can’t afford a mortgage will find that investing $30,000 in a tiny house (less if they do the work themselves) allows them to get started on raising a family when they want to, instead of waiting who-knows-how-long until they can afford a house.


Some commenters ask why the family doesn’t just buy a used R.V. Yes, used R.V.s can be cheaper, but a well-built tiny house will last far longer than an old R.V. that likely has (or will soon develop) a leaky roof, mildew, or cracked water or waste tanks.

Many of the commenters seem to think that moving to a tiny house is something a family would do for the novelty. But a tiny house is a great alternative for anyone who is struggling with unemployment, underemployment or a dying business. It can dramatically reduce shelter expenses until the breadwinner(s) can get back on their feet again. And it sure beats maxing out your credit cards so the whole family can eat on a regular basis!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I Buy at Estate Sales





As I said last time, if I buy something at an estate sale, I have to get rid of something else when I get home. This “one-in, one-out” policy is the key to staying on top of clutter once you’ve gone through everything and kept only what you really love or need.

So what kind of things do I buy at estate sales?

First off, I buy linens and towels. Not just any linens and towels, however. What I like are new or almost new items. Many of today’s seniors used to set things aside “for company.” So while their everyday towels and sheets may look like they’ve had many years of use, their “for company” items are like new, and often are new, sometimes with price tags still attached.

Just this weekend at a nearby estate sale, I found a lovely dishtowel with a design that screamed “1960s,” hot pink with roses on it. It was like new. Its quality was so far beyond the dish towels sold in stores today that I couldn’t leave it there, so I bought it for a dollar. Then I pitched an old and faded dish towel when I got home so that there would be room in the drawer for my new find.

The quality of today’s new linens and towels are just not up to the standards of the mid-20th century. Even luxurious plush towels quickly degrade within a year or two of washing and drying. But the old goods just last and last.

Another reason I buy things at estate sales is that I can find things there that I can’t find in the stores anymore. A while back I bought a very sturdy eggbeater, much like this one. It’s perfect when I need to beat something quickly and don’t want to take the time to dig out my hand mixer. Good luck trying to find one at your local Target!


Finally, the prices at an estate sale can’t be beat. I often find hardcover books for a quarter. I read them, then donate them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. If you need a plate to put a cake on for your family reunion or church picnic, a 50-cent china plate from an estate sale makes the perfect display, and you won’t be concerned if the plate is accidentally broken, or if someone takes it home by mistake, after the event.
                                
I’ve always felt that going to an estate sale is like going on a treasure hunt: you never know what kind of treasure you’ll see. You just have to have some rules about what you can take home, and follow those rules!



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Joy (and Danger) of Estate Sales





Once we got rid of more than half of our belongings when we downsized, I figured going to estate sales would now be out of the question for me. Otherwise, how would I handle the temptation of more stuff?

I’ve been going to estate sales for years. I used to live down the road from a very wealthy town where people lived in beautiful old houses on acreage. Those were truly estates! By going to the estate sales, I could go inside these lovely old houses, appreciate their architecture and decorating, and sometimes pick up a few goodies as well.

Now that I’m committed to not bringing home more stuff unless I get rid of an equal amount simultaneously (so that I never overstuff a home with clutter again), I’ve been surprised to discover that going to an estate sale can actually encourage me to stick to my guns.

How can this be? Well, now when I go into a house where an estate sale is taking place (as I did the other day), and I see table after table covered with old glassware and plates, countless knick-knacks, faded costume jewelry and worn linens, I think with gratitude that I’m glad this mess isn’t mine, and that I didn’t have to deal with it. It’s a good reminder of the quantity of stuff we went through when we downsized, and how glad I am to have that behind me.

Of course, my stuff was newer than most of what I see in estate sales. But it’s the sheer quantity of stuff spread all over someone’s home that is a good visual reminder of how much stuff a house can hold if you don’t stay on top of things.

So going to estate sales actually helps me keep on top of my own clutter. But there are other benefits as well. Since I no longer live near that wealthy area, the houses I go into now aren’t palatial or architecturally significant. But their contents often include things I remember from my childhood, so it’s almost like going into a museum of my youth.

For instance, at the sale I went to the other day, I saw an ashtray with a gold-colored metal top and a red-plaid bean-bag bottom, just like one I remember from my grandpa’s house. Seeing it took me back to Sunday afternoons visiting my grandparents, where the women chatted in the kitchen while Grandpa and my uncles sat around the tiny black-and-white television set, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as they cheered on the Sox. All those important people in my life have been gone for years, but what a nice memory of them that ashtray brought back to me.

That’s why, as long as I can keep to my pledge not to bring home anything unless I get rid of something else, I will keep going to estate sales.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Channeling My Inner 12-Year-Old



Thanks to a years-long economic downturn, many of us have lost our livelihoods and must pare down our belongings and find a more affordable way of life.

It’s called downsizing your life, and it’s not easy. For me, one of the most challenging aspects was figuring out who I was and what I was going to need in my new downsized life.

It had been so long since I was free to do what I wanted, yet I couldn’t do anything expensive. I wouldn’t be able to afford to take up skiing in Aspen. I couldn’t become one of those people who go on three cruises a year. And I certainly wasn’t going to be able to open up a cute little gift shop in a tourist town; who’s got the money for that kind of overhead?

That said, those of us who tend to be frugal have always known that you don’t need much money to have fun. That belief is what finally helped me discover which few items of my oversized lifetime accumulation of stuff should be kept, and which needed to go.

In the end, what I figured out was that I still love to do the things I loved to do when I was 12. And since I, like most 12-year-olds back then, had very little money, the things I enjoyed cost little or nothing.

Why 12? For me, by age 12 I already knew my own mind but had not yet been distracted by boys (age 14+), the pressure to get good grades (ages 14-21), career success (age 21 +) and motherhood (age 25 +).

At 12, I read voraciously, often to escape the boredom of the classroom. I read books from the public library, so there was no money involved.

At 12, I learned to sew. Whenever I visited the small Southern town where my grandma lived, I stopped by the local fabric shop and picked up a bag of remnants for 25 cents. This kept my little sisters in doll clothes and me in sewing projects. Cheap fun!

At 12, I loved music. My little black transistor radio brought me great joy, as did my record player and a growing collection of record albums.

At 12, I loved to ride my bike all over town. It provided an escape from my family and the most freedom I would know until I learned to drive a few years later.

At 12, I had a garden. I grew bachelor buttons and potatoes and green beans. I still remember the taste of fresh buttered potatoes straight from the garden….mmmm!

Once I rediscovered these joys at the age of 50+, it became much easier to decide what to keep. I kept my very favorite books, my long-forgotten sewing supplies and our gardening tools. And I bought a nice high-quality Trek bicycle.

Everything else had to go, including the rest of the books. (We had accumulated hundreds over the years). Now I live with only my most favorite items, and they’re being used all the time.

Thanks to technology, many of my favorite things take up little space and cost little if anything. Books that aren’t in our public library can be stored on my Kindle. Going to YouTube lets me hear entire albums. Pandora offers a great variety of music whenever I want it.

So now I can enjoy my favorite activities with low clutter and at little or no cost; I call that the joy of downsizing!

If you’re overwhelmed by years of accumulated stuff and need to downsize your life, take some time to go back to your youth. What did you like when you were 12? How did you spend your time outside of the classroom? What did you enjoy doing before you were distracted by adult responsibilities? I’ll bet you’ll find some clues there.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Should You Keep? Well, Who Are You Now?



Like so many of our contemporaries, we were forced to downsize because of a big financial reversal: my husband’s industry shifted overseas, and he was left without a livelihood, not to mention his vocation of over 30 years.

At the same time, I was facing an empty nest. Even though I’ve been a writer for years, my primary occupation was full-time mom of a large family. By the time we downsized, some of our kids had already moved out on their own, and the others were approaching that age.

So both my husband and I were faced with the thought, “Who am I now?” Aside from the philosophical side of that question was the very real issue of which of our things should we get rid of and which of our things should we keep because we might need/want them in the future. When you no longer know who you are, everything looks like something you might need down the road.

This partially explains why we didn’t get rid of hardly anything before we moved (the first of three moves in four years), and why we kept two storage units full of stuff before we finally settled in the little house we now call home.

I don’t recommend doing what we did. It was a big pain, as you can imagine. But we just didn’t know where we would end up or what we would be doing.

It took quite a bit of time before either of us began getting an idea of what we wanted to keep and what we could give up. Speaking only for myself, I found that as time passed and I stopped seeing myself primarily as Mom, I began to see myself as Claire again. Part of that process involved tapping into my desires regarding what I wanted to do.

I’m not talking about careers here. I can’t write 16 hours a day anyways. I’m talking about how I wanted to spend my time. It had been so many years since I had the luxury of choosing how to spend my time that I was almost paralyzed by the freedom for a while. And even when I did do something I wanted to do, I felt guilty about spending time on myself like that.

But I’m getting over it :) Since then, I’ve identified some areas of interest, things that I really enjoy doing, and as a result I was able to keep items I would need and pass along items that I no longer needed.

This may sound obvious, but when you’re faced with literally hundreds of cubic feet of stuff accumulated over a busy three or four decades, you either have to pitch it all at once or come up with a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sentimental (and frugal) people like me can’t just toss it all in dumpsters, no matter how much we wish we could. We need some guidelines in order to begin the sorting routine.

Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I had my guidelines. Next time, I’ll share how that process happened for me.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Tiny House Living




I recently discovered a new book about tiny houses that’s packed with photos and interesting information from people who live in tiny houses; some of them even built their own tiny houses.

Now, while I don’t think a tiny house is for me (we use our basement almost every day for our work and our hobbies), I can see how well the concept works for some people. In the new book Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less than400 Square Feet, author Ryan Mitchell shares the stories of a variety of tiny house residents.

My favorite is that of Kathy, a retiree whose son began building her a tiny house without her knowledge (“He knew if he told her ahead of time it would be a much harder sell, so he waited until it was almost done to show her.”) Kathy now lives in the tiny house with her husband, and has found that the tiny house has made some big positive changes in her life:


She can do all that she needs to do in her home, without a mortgage and with very low bills. Her power bill tops out at $25 a month and water is about $12—not because she uses that much, but because that’s the minimum charge to keep the service on….Since she is retired, it is very important to keep her living expenses low and it means that she can do much more, like visit her grandchildren more, go out to eat with her friends more, focus on her hobbies and simply not have to worry about the bills as much…..For the first time she has had the money and the time to visit her grandson for his birthday….


So many Baby Boomers don’t have big pensions waiting for them and were unable to save up much for retirement; a tiny house might be one answer to living successfully in retirement on only Social Security and some modest savings. If that sounds like you or someone you know, you should check out this book!

In the story about Kathy, she says that her friends with large houses are beginning to wish they had smaller homes to care for and more free time like Kathy does. But she says something holds them back:


It’s because they don’t know what to do with all their stuff that they spent their whole lives trying to pay for. They are so inclined to having stuff that it’s scary for them to think of paring down.


To Kathy’s friends, I say “Downsize, people, downsize! Lose the clutter and gain your freedom!”

One more thing: in most tiny houses, the sleeping area is always up in a loft. Who wants to risk falling down that tiny loft ladder in the middle of the night when they need a bathroom? But Kathy’s tiny house has a futon in the living area that turns into a bed, so she doesn’t climb up into a loft to sleep. Smart!