Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Home "Ownership"

I hate the term “Home Owner.”

I do not “own” my home. Not by a long shot (Can you say, "no down payment?"). This label is thrown around like it’s some sort of accomplishment. All it really means is: “Congratulations, you signed up for a mortgage. Good luck that the housing market doesn’t suck while you “own” it and you end up owing more than it’s worth.”

We think mortgage debt is good debt because a house is supposed to be an investment or an asset. Plus, I suppose it also has that whole “American Dream” business wrapped up in it. Obviously, the economy and housing crash has sobered most of us when it comes to biting off more mortgage than we can chew. But if you were fortunate enough to escape foreclosure, or maybe are even still sitting on quite a bit of equity, it’s very easy to get complacent, blithely going about your business while those mortgage checks automatically roll out of your account out each month.

But when was the last time you sat down and looked at how much you owe? Even if you are lucky enough to have entered the housing market at a good time, and that set you on a path toward good equity or helped you eventually move into a larger, nicer home – don’t feel too smug. When was the last time you looked at the dollar amount of interest you pay every month? Not the rate; the actual cash you pay. Or how much interest you’ve paid so far? I’m sorry, but a tax break is a minor consolation here. To me, anyway.

We just (finally) refinanced to a 15 year mortgage last week. And for the first time, the amount we automatically pay toward our principle every month is actually more than the amount of interest we pay.


I think the term "Home Owner" should be reserved for people who own their home outright. And maybe I’ll be one someday.

Meanwhile, I need a new term for myself. Suggestions? Home Equity Owner? Piece of a Home Owner? Part-Home Owner? Mortgager?

Those stink. Please help. Thanks.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I think it would be awesome to cut down my clothing to just a few multifunctional items. From what I’ve read, the key to a simple wardrobe is owning a handful of high quality, multipurpose pieces with a common underlying tone so that they easily mix and match, plus some accessories (minimalist women seem to love scarves) that extend the outfit options from there. These items should last many years and basically never go out of style.

Sounds great, I’m in.

Anyone know a good magician?

One tenant of simple living is “fewer but better.” Along with owning less, what one does own should be high quality. Growing up pretty poor, we always bought the cheapest that would get the job done. Cheapest car, cheapest clothes, cheapest appliance, cheapest furniture, cheapest d├ęcor. There was never enough money to buy any one expensive, high quality thing at a time. This mode of thinking has carried over quite strongly into my adult life. But, I have made a few breakthroughs. I have a nice vacuum.

Er…let’s see, what else…er….hmmm….

Ah, but clothes, clothes, clothes. I’m at a complete impasse with clothes. Here are some of my roadblocks:
  1. I don’t have a strong fashion sense or innate appreciation for nice clothing. I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t think I’d be able to spot a key, timeless wardrobe staple if it jumped on my body. And really, I just don’t know how to shop, I don’t like to shop, and have absolutely no interest in developing this hobby.
  2. Shopping takes me forever. When you only shop for clothes a few times a year, you have to make each decision count. I can’t even take friends along to help; I end up driving them crazy or I just feel bad for taking up so much of their time. It frustrates me to spend so much time on something I care so little about, but this does nothing to speed me up. I’m stuck.
  3. I can’t bring myself to budget very much money for clothes, even if it saves me money in the long run. I typically spend about $20 on a pair of pants, sometimes $12 or $15. For shirts, $20 is also toward the high end – I shoot for $10 and under. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life spent more than $60 on any one item, except maybe a winter coat, and that was probably under $100. My clothing philosophy tends to be “low risk, low reward,” and I struggle with breaking out of that cycle.
  4. I feel like if I were to really make a go of a simple wardrobe, I’d have to start over from scratch. This thought is completely overwhelming – how would I justify the time or money to scrap my wardrobe and start over? Because nothing I currently own is worth much, it’s not like I’d get a boost by selling it.
  5. As much as I love my husband, he is no help in this area. He cares far less about clothing than I do, and I pretty much do all his clothes shopping for him.
  6. Wouldn’t this mean I'd have to do laundry more often? *shudder*
So, what to do? Well, here’s my plan so far:
(Okay, I’m making this up as I type, so it’s a developing plan. This is why blogging helps me):
  1. Keep pruning the current wardrobe of crap, especially crap with holes.
  2. Try not to worry too much about running out of clothes. I am fairly confident that I don’t have a ridiculous amount to begin with, and I’m ditching more all the time, so I admit this does worry me at times. I will try not to worry. (Most of the worry is probably just fear of running out of clean laundry. I’ll try to consider that a somewhat separate issue).
  3. If I do feel like I’m running out or there is an item I need to fill a specific gap, I won’t immediately rush to the absolute cheapest place to buy it. Maybe I'll at least try a higher end store in hopes of coming across a higher quality item with a stomach-able price.
  4. Continue to reflect on what my overall clothing style might be, in hopes of developing a theme that might be easily mixed and matched. Enlist the help from a couple friends to just talk about it or even window shop together (with a time limit!). I’ve heard of something called “chic bohemian.” Something tells me I might actually be able to pull that one off, if I knew what the heck it was.
  5. Put “Rosie’s Clothing” back in as a line-item in our budget. For a long time now it’s just been clumped together with my “flex/fun” money. I have a feeling if I separate that back out into its own category, I will be more intentional with my clothing purchases.
  6. Continue search for wardrobe magician/wizard/sorcerer.
Meanwhile, I’m taking applications for a window-shopping-style-discerning buddy. Patience is a must. I will pay you in simplifying or decluttering services. Or cookies.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What you see is what you see. And that’s all, folks.

We look at people and judge them. Constantly. It’s human nature. Yet, we are taught from a young age not to judge a book by its cover, and I think most of us make an honest effort to avoid judging – even the inside of the book, right?! But granting that it is human instinct to make judgments about people (and not knocking the human race too badly for succumbing to this instinct at less-than-appropriate times), I’d like to discuss an important but often overlooked aspect of this tendency.

Don’t judge the whole person by the moment.

We all have bad days. We all say things we don’t mean (at least not with the 100%, eternal conviction we seem to at the moment. Husband, are you reading this???). We all have multifaceted personalities that manifest themselves at different times in different ways in different situations. This is something I try to work on with my kids a lot as they deal with their friends, and even with me. I do my best to teach and model an attitude of grace. But I fail a lot. Please don’t judge. :)

Anyway. Let’s apply this principle to “stuff.” Because that’s what I do these days.

Don’t judge the person by the stuff. In other words, don’t judge a person’s mindset about his/her possessions (or environment or living situation) by the possessions that person is surrounded by at the moment. It can take years for your possessions to catch up with your current mindset about them. This seems obvious if you consider people who have the mindset to acquire bigger, better, or more. But it also applies to people who are striving to downsize. There are so many decisions, events, people, and even situations beyond a person’s control that contributed to this one snapshot in time. You don’t know where that person has been or how far s/he has already come. You don’t know what external or internal barriers must be faced before progress is made. Even without significant blockades, simplifying is always a gradual, continuous process.

Come visit me and all my stuff if you need proof.

Unless you are told outright, you don’t know someone’s current attitude. And even then, that attitude is always developing.

I can think of many decisions surrounding “things” I/we have made over the years that I would probably go back and change if I could, and that would make my situation and my stuff look very different right now. I try not to dwell on these as regrets or mistakes, even though it isn’t always easy. Just as we expressed in our family purpose statement, I believe it is more important to focus on the present and how I can best direct my efforts to help my current physical reality match my current mindset.

But do you know what I like best about this particular application of suspending judgment? It really just reinforces the truth that the stuff you own does not define who you are. Doesn’t matter how big or small the pile (or its “container”) is.

Kinda cool, huh?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The House Dilemma - Part 1

Preface: Some of what follows is quite difficult for me to share. First, because I'm kind of ashamed of some aspects. Second, I'm worried about offending someone. To overcome the first, I need to just buck up and get over it. To overcome the second, I have to realize that someone who reads this may actually find encouragement and validation. That makes the risk worth it to me.

So, here we go.

While this whole “not caring about stuff and possessions” has developed gradually for me, I would never have described myself as very materialistic. Clothes – whatever. Cars – blah. Furniture, gadgets, toys – meh. But I am here to admit I've been an admirer of large(r) homes for quite some time. Not the stuff inside houses, but houses themselves. My husband will tell you I have spent countless hours poring over real estate websites. At times I've even thought I could or should have been a realtor.

Clearly, a big(ger) house doesn't really jive with the simple lifestyle to which we are now aspiring. Honestly, I’m still analyzing my own thoughts and working through my issues on the topic of houses. And once again, I must acknowledge that Pete is a few steps ahead of me; he's never wanted a big house. In fact, in one of my most recent purges I came across a college essay of his in which he clearly stated the fact that he didn't understand the need for large homes. It’s always been “my idea” to someday move into a not-huge-but-bigger house in a lovely neighborhood and “settle” there and raise our kids. Although Pete and I are so fortunate to be on the same page in most aspects of our lives, financial and otherwise, the “house thing” has never quite clicked between the two of us. I am pleased to say that we’re finally starting to inch closer together in our vision – but it’s really me that’s had to do the inching. I had always reasoned that I must be the partner who wanted a bigger/nicer home because I was the one who spent more of my time there as a stay-at-home mom. Kind of a nesting mentality, I suppose. I figured he must not care as much because he just wasn’t there as much. Now, I am more in tune with the overall life philosophy behind it all.

I still find myself quite envious of other people's homes at times. Yes, yes - I know it's all relative. I live in a huge, luxurious home to some, and a meager dwelling to others. The people whose homes I am envying at this moment are probably envying someone else's bigger/better home, while still other people are envying mine. I am flat-out fortunate to have a roof over my head, period. I get all that. However, this acknowledgment doesn't help much with my lingering inner struggle over the issue. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, here's an embarrassing fact that I can't believe I'm actually sharing on the internet. Once, I entered every single home address of my daughter’s preschool classmates into (and if you don't know what that is, all the better!). My snooping session uncovered that our house was second from the bottom of the list in size and market value. Embarrassing as it is to admit that I looked at this (in my defense, I was up way too late and already in a bad headspace), I feel it does at least provide a frame of reference. Those preschool families are a cross section of our “peers," and you can observe that we are already on the smaller-house side of our peer group. It's one example, but I think it's pretty representative. And, the fact that I checked all this in the first place is some darn solid proof that I’ve got real issues to work through – and that maybe, I’m a lot more materialistic than I think! Dang those Joneses!

In addition to this snapshot comparison, as we look around us, houses are not getting any smaller. Over the years we've had many friends that have "upgraded" to a larger home, but we've known very few who have "downgraded" - and of those, most were by necessity (following something like an involuntary downgrade in employment status, if ya know what I mean.). We are still in the first house we bought - our "starter home," as they call it on those real estate websites.

Yet, I’m slowly realizing that I don’t actually need (or even want) to participate on the seemingly ubiquitous quest to upgrade. As we embarked on our journey toward simplicity, there were still a couple of lingering concerns I had about choosing to step out of world of house upgrades. I think I may share those concerns in future posts, and the ways in which I’m beginning to see paths around and through them. It’s a process, believe me, when you’ve spent so many years imagining a “dream home” and what that represents in your life. The house issue is definitely the last and most stubborn aspect of my life to begin the surrender to simplicity.

And for some reason, writing about it helps.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Just a quote I liked.

I read this thought over at Miss Minimalsist the other day and it has really stuck with me. The guy who wrote it is a mildly autistic young man who contributed to her Monday "Real Life Minimalist" series. I find these real stories of real people very inspiring. I liked the quote enough that I wanted to leave it here, so I could go back and look at it later - rather than just slapping it in my Facebook status.

Anyway, the quote:

"Minimalism may appear plain and boring to begin with, but that is only true when your view of life is limited to physical possessions."

I had planned to write a bunch more about this quote and what it means to me. But I think I'll just let it sit as it is. That would be the minimalist thing to do, yes?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Family Purpose Statement

This past spring I participated in "Project: Simplify" with Simple Mom. The challenge was to tackle 5 clutter Hot Spots in 5 weeks. I had already read Tsh's book, Organized Simplicity, in which she discusses writing a family purpose statement. Sounded like a nice idea, but things like laundry, making dinner, and kid-refereeing seemed a bit more pressing at the time.

However, in the online Project: Simplify challenge, she again strongly encouraged writing a purpose statement before beginning the purging, with the idea it would provide a compass for making decisions.

Well, phooey. I play by the rules. So this was the kick in the pants I needed to tackle the purpose-writing. Luckily, I have a husband who is totally into that kind of thing (such an over-achiever, I tell ya), so we sat down one night to knock it out.

Tsh outlines 20 questions intended to guide the process. The idea is that as you answer these questions, some common themes surface, and you latch onto these to write the statement.

So we answered the questions, and in the time it took me to read back our answers, Pete had crafted a statement. We tweaked it a little, and here's where we ended up:

Titterington Family

Purpose Statement

Our family mission is to build a home where we can be ourselves, and learn to love and be loved.

Our home should be a space where all feel

safe, honest, and welcome.

We strive to be fully present in the moment so that we are…

Loving each other,

Loving others,

Living simply,

Ready and available to help,

Spiritually aware,

Physically active,

Constantly learning,

Unafraid of future and failure,

Embracing optimism and joy,

And full of gratitude.

We seek to recognize, respect, and grow each others’ complementary strengths, maximizing what we each do best for the benefit of the family and to serve the community as a whole.

I'm sure it will be altered over time, and I feel like there are some other ideas I want to get in there somehow, but it works for now.

We keep it on our fridge. So what the heck, the internet is the new fridge, right? It might as well be here, too.

Maybe it will inspire someone somewhere to write one as well. It's one of those "important but not urgent" tasks that could probably use a shift up the priority list.

You'd be surprised at how much having this thing around helps in everyday decision-making. We are all constantly faced with decisions about how to spend our limited time, money, and energy, not to mention how to guide our kids in these areas. And with every decision comes an opportunity cost - a sacrifice associated with giving up any benefits of the option(s) you didn't choose. The ever-present reminder of "what we're about" not only helps in making the initial decision, but also in finding continued peace in that choice and its associated sacrifices as time goes on.

All right, are you inspired? Ready, set, go!