Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Moving Back In with the Folks? Eeeek!

Oh, the joy, fear and excitement of leaving home to go off on my own. How well I remember it, even though it’s been, um, a while.

Once I was on my own, I couldn’t imagine moving back home with my parents. So when I read this article about how the economy is forcing some adults in their 50s and 60s to move back in with Mom and/or Pop, I was both alarmed and sympathetic.

But when you think about it, it makes sense. Wages are stagnating but costs are rising. It’s been this way for several years, and something’s gotta give. If moving in with the folks keeps a roof over your head, what can you do?

Most people won’t be “moving back home” anytime soon. But to make sure it doesn’t happen, we need to be realistic about our personal financial situation. Are we facing layoffs at work? Are we barely making it on a pension? Do we see lower income but bigger bills in the future?

You have to be honest with yourself. If you refuse to face reality, you’re only postponing the pain, and you may be making it worse, in the long run. But if you make the tough decision now to downsize your life, and make your bills (and your lifestyle) more manageable, you may be able to avoid the fate of those who are moving back in with their elderly folks.

We downsized after an income loss and came through in much better shape than we expected. Life in our McMansion is just a good memory now, but everyone once in a while I look our old house up on Zillow to see how high the property taxes have gone, and think about how we dodged a bullet there. Even the $300+ monthly electric bill is just a bad dream. Best of all, we’re now so comfortable that the thought of moving in with my folks (who are still living and just as hard to get along with as they ever were!) doesn’t even turn up on my radar.

My motto is: Bite the bullet and do what you must so you don’t end up sleeping under the watchful eye of your Bobby Sherman poster ever again!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Small House Regrets?

If anything could make me regret downsizing to a small house, Easter would have. And it almost did.

We can squeeze eight people into our eat-in kitchen. Our growing family now numbers 16. You do the math.

By Good Friday, I was thinking about putting up a table for eight in our living room (which would require moving furniture out of there first). The living room isn’t connected to our eat-in area, so it would be like having two separate parties. Bummer.

We couldn’t use the finished basement like we usually do because it’s so darn cold down there right now (it was a long winter) and Grandma and Grandpa get too chilled in the basement even when the rest of us think it’s comfortable.

So, thoughts of “What were we thinking buying such a little house?” began to surface.

But here’s the thing. We love this little house, and 95% of the time, there’s more than enough space for us. It’s only when the entire family gets together that it feels a little too cozy.  

All year long, I enjoy the low utility bills.
All year long, I love that it only takes me a few hours to clean the entire house.
All year long, I enjoy the mental freedom of knowing that we have no mortgage. (We chose a small house so that we could remain debt-free.)

Weighing those things against a little coziness made it clear that we were thinking just fine when we bought this house. But in the end, it didn’t matter. We had our first 80-degree day of the year on Easter Sunday, so we were able to have our family gathering under a canopy on the patio. What a lovely day!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

RIP Coldwater Creek

I was sorry but not surprised to read that Coldwater Creek is closing their stores. I used to shop there often. Not that I could afford most of their clothes, but they had lovely, nice quality items that were appropriate for women over the age of 25. I would go in and have a look, then wait patiently for a sale, where I would happily buy a few of my favorites at a discounted price. I still wear some of those clothes, survivors of a major wardrobe purge when we downsized.

At one time, going to Coldwater Creek was fun. The salespeople were mature, helpful and not pushy. The clothes were displayed with accessories, which is very helpful for those of us who need a visual. They wrapped my purchases in tissue and carefully packed into them into a nice brown paper tote.

So what happened? Going only by my own experience, I believe the death knell for Coldwater Creek began when they started doing two things: they cut back on larger sizes (a foolish move when much of your clientele is “older”) and they cut back on quality. How well I remember one big sale they had, where I came home with four pretty t-shirts. Three of the four began shrinking lengthwise and stretching crosswise after the first washing. This was the problem I’d seen with lower-priced clothes, but never before at Coldwater Creek.

After that, I was more cautious when I shopped at Coldwater Creek. I could no longer assume that whatever I bought there would hold up. They became like every other store, where it was hard work to find something stylish and age-appropriate that wouldn’t shrink or fall apart in the laundry.

For me, the last straw occurred after they began sending me coupons for $25 off anything. By that time, I had to drive some distance to the nearest Coldwater Creek, but did so in hopes of finding something nice in my price range. But I looked through the entire store and could not find a single item I liked. In some cases, the items were cheaply made. In others, there were plenty of size 6’s but nothing over size 12. I used one coupon to get a cheap necklace for almost free, but decided it was too chintzy-looking to wear. After that, I just threw away the coupons whenever they showed up in the mail.

What a shame! For many years, Coldwater Creek held out against the despicable trend of selling cheap trampy clothes that so many other merchants converted to several years ago. But once they joined the crowd, they joined the race to the bottom. No wonder we now see Goodwill stores popping up all over the place; they seem to be the only place where you can find well-made clothing at affordable prices.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why Clutter isn't a Problem for Me Now

Many years ago, in a different time and place, I worked in an office building across the street from a lovely outdoor mall. Naturally, I spent many happy lunch hours shopping.

At Crate and Barrel, I bought all sorts of things for my kitchen. They even had a discount corner, which I always made sure to check out. Then there was Marshall Fields, where I could drool over linens and housewares. At John M. Smyth, I worked hard to find just the perfect solid wood sofa table and end tables to go with our living room sofa and loveseat.

The difficulty back then was staying within my budget. So when I found a great deal, I pounced. That was the start of my clutter habit, I know now. But it was also a time when I learned to identify high-quality furniture, fabrics and household goods.

Today, my clutter problem really isn’t a problem at all. We downsized a few years ago, and since then it hasn’t been hard to keep from filling up the house again. Why? Because when I go shopping now, I see very little that I want.

Everything looks so boring and cheap to me! I used to agonize over which set of sheets to buy because there were so many pretty choices. Now I look at them and think “Meh!”

Furniture is so poorly made and ugly now. Fortunately I'm intimately acquainted with an excellent woodworker (here’s my solid red oak coffee table), but I see nothing like what he makes in the stores.

My adult kids buy furniture and home goods, but they don’t seem excited by it, and I understand why. To them it’s just a sofa, or just a chair. They found it at Target, or Shopko, or the cheap chain furniture store across from the mall. No big deal. And it’ll fall apart in a few years and they’ll buy another one.

This makes me sad. I love good design, beautiful fabrics, wood with distinctive characteristics. You used to find such things in the stores and the malls. But not any more.

(Fortunately my most-loved pieces survived our downsizing and we continue to enjoy them.)