4 ways downsizing saved my budget

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Chelsea Baldwin at Broke Girl Gets Rich.

4 ways downsizing saved my budget

I never knew the first time I set off overseas with only one suitcase it would change my life.

OK, maybe I had an idea that it would kick off this insatiable urge for more travel to see more places, but what I mean is I didn’t expect it to really affect other areas of my life so positively… especially my finances. (After all, plane tickets to the other side of the world aren’t cheap.)

Traveling taught me some wonderful lessons in minimalism and how to live a full, everyday life with fewer possessions.

It also saved my budget.

With all the on-again, off-again travel I’ve done, I’ve taken on a lot of low-paid internships, rendering my yearly income for the years since my college graduation well below poverty level.

But, given that circumstance, I’m able to fund travel, I don’t have debt, I’ve got a decent emergency fund and I’m gearing up for 2015 to be a year of serious retirement-based investments.

I learned how to downsize, almost out of necessity at first, and my budget reaped the benefits.

1. I sold my car in exchange for a bicycle – and got a nice emergency fund in exchange

I realized I didn’t have any need to be holding onto a car that I hardly drove… especially since it was far easier, cheaper, and healthier for me to buy a $60 bicycle with a basket on the front to carry my things, a $10 helmet and a $5 lock. A whopping $75 for more than a year’s worth of transportation. (And I could get my tires refilled for free from a local shop!)

With the money I got for selling the car, I set up an emergency fund, which is now one of my most prized possessions. It brings me so much peace of mind to know that if a financial emergency comes up, I won’t have to scramble around for months or pay credit card interest because I can’t afford it in the moment.

I also don’t have to buy gas, pay for car insurance, or set money aside for those lovely car repairs that are inevitable with older vehicles—something that’s definitely made my lifestyle possible with such a low income.

2. I got a basic smartphone with a foreign SIM card—no fancy data plan

In the US, any kind of phone plan you get will cost you at least $65 per month—and that’s without roaming charges.

When I needed to “upgrade” my phone last year, I opted to buy an unlocked Samsung S Duos 2 for about $150. I was in India at the time, so I got a pre-paid Indian SIM card with a pay-as-you-go option for texts and calls, and a monthly rechargeable data plan that cost about $3 per month. Each month, I spent less than $5 – freeing up some nice space in my budget for groceries, savings, weekend travel trips, or whatever else I wanted to spend it on.

And thanks to apps that also run on wifi, I don’t need to buy a US-based SIM card and plan when I come back to visit – I can use apps like WhatsApp, Viber & Google Voice to take care of all the calling I need for free.

3. Cutting down on “stuff” that needs repaired

Repairs cost money.

And in the world of self-employment, any time that cuts into your daily work schedule to manage these repairs also costs you money.

Getting rid of things like an extra netbook computer, mp3 devices, my car, old jeans, excess kitchen utensils, and unused furniture means I no longer had to worry about keeping these things in good shape.

And because I had far fewer possessions, far fewer things were breaking on me. (The things I kept were higher quality too, further decreasing the rate of needed repairs—like keeping the MacBook & selling the Asus netbook, for example.)

Now I don’t lose working hours and I save cash that would have normally gone out the window.

4. Using money from sold items saved me in tight situations

I’ve already mentioned that I used the money from selling my car to set up an emergency fund, but selling items that were a little more expensive than I wanted to donate has helped me out more than a few times.

For example, one Christmas I cut back by selling a piano keyboard set and my netbook. I took that money to fund my budget for buying Christmas presents that year—so I never had to cut into my own finances where I didn’t have room.

Moving Forward: Recognizing that ‘things’ are a means to an end

This year, my income is much higher than it’s ever been, so the downsizing I maintain will be more for my mental sanity than financial reasons.

They key lesson I’ve learned from all this, which I will hold onto moving forward in the future, is that things are merely a means to an end, but life is an end in and of itself. Things are great when they help you move forward, but need to be eliminated when they start holding you back—financially or mentally.

——

Broke Girl Gets Rich is a blog that chronicles the journey and lessons behind creating a life of financial stability and freedom. You can read more about it here.

Dear Toy Story, Thanks for Nothing.

Dear Toy Story, Thanks for nothing.

Let me preface this by saying I love Toy Story. I love my kids imaginations. I love imagination in general. I love happiness. I love ice cream and rainbows and birthday cake and unicorns. I am not a heartless adult who has forgotten what it is to be a child.

But.

But honestly? Toy Story kinda screwed us up.

As a kid I thought my stuff had feelings. I would rotate my soft toys each night, so as not to upset anyone left out of my bed. I felt a pang of regret at the aqua Chuck Taylors I ignored until it was too late and they no longer fit me. I kept ticket stubs and clothing labels in a wardrobe-door shrine to things that happened and felt sad at the thought that one day, they would no longer matter.

And as a kid, that’s OK. As a kid we’re still wrapped in our imagination, finding our place in the world, understanding who we are and what’s important. What has feelings and what doesn’t.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your stuff?  It doesn’t have feelings.

Your toys don’t talk when you’re not there. They don’t plot their escape or plan daring rescue missions. They don’t feel sad when you grow up. And if you decide to donate them, I promise there will be no mournful Randy Newman/Sarah McLachlan song playing over a montage of your time together.

Your shoes don’t get upset if you play favourites. Your towels don’t need to be used equally. Your other chairs aren’t jealous of all the time you spend sitting in your favourite. Your abandoned DVD boxed sets don’t actually feel abandoned. Your unplayed CDs don’t long for one more spin around the stereo. Your old journals are not staring at you from the shelf begging to be opened. Your expired make-up regrets nothing.

The problem so many of us are now facing in our cluttered homes is that the subtext of Toy Story has stuck with us longer than our belief in talking toys. It says that in order to hold on to the past, we must hold on to our stuff. In order to honour a memory we must keep the memento. In order to remember how young/beautiful/interesting/passionate/talented we were, we must keep those things that demonstrate that. Simply because we own things we must keep them. Because we spent money on our stuff we must retain it.

But as adults, it’s time to take some of the emotion out of our stuff.

I’m not talking specifically about difficult, emotional clutter. There are ways of working through that at your own pace, in your own time. But things you’ve held on to for reasons more about you than the item? Start thinking about that stuff.

Do you need it? Do you want it? Do you even like it? What are you afraid of in letting it go?

And most importantly, don’t watch Toy Story before you begin. You might find yourself talking to your stuff and expecting a reply. Or even worse, singing a Sarah McLachlan song.

Donate or Sell? What to do with unwanted stuff?

Unwanted Items - Do I Donate or Sell?

One of the biggest sticking points many people find as they begin to declutter and simplify their homes is what to do with all this stuff?

We don’t want it. It’s in our way. We’re ready to let go of it. And yet…

And yet we get caught up in the value of our stuff. We probably paid good money for that end table/lounge/unworn jacket/toy of the moment/bike/treadmill and it doesn’t feel good to think we will just let it go. Bye bye, money.

So people get stuck. They decide to get money for their unwanted stuff, and look in to all the different ways of selling it:

  • ebay
  • Craigslist
  • local message boards
  • Facebook garage sales
  • real garage sales
  • consignment
  • Gumtree
  • market stalls

I’m not against selling unwanted belongings. I’ve done it myself, and in some cases made a little side money. But I do want to warn you against trying to sell everything you no longer want as I’ve seen it become a barrier to moving forward too many times to count.

Typically what happens when you decide to sell your stuff is this:

You do all the work of decluttering, collecting the stuff you no longer want or need in order to sell it. Then it sits in boxes or bags in the office or a steadily-expanding corner of the bedroom until you find the time to photograph it, list it for sale online, respond to buyer questions, organise a garage sale, find a consignment store willing to take your items… Then it actually needs to sell, you need to accept payment, organise pick-up or ship it to the buyer.

That’s a lot of work to potentially make very little money and often this stuff sits in a pile labelled “Waiting to Sell” or somesuch and languishes there, still cluttering up your space and still weighing on your mind.

My general advice on selling is this:

Try selling once, then donate – never to be thought of again.

I subscribe to the philosophy that unwanted stuff is emotional weight and getting it out the door as quickly as possible is more valuable than selling it, so I’m conflicted in offering advice on how best to sell. Also, if I’m being honest, I get tired of thinking about stuff all the time.

But ultimately what I want to see is you living a simpler, slower life and if that means helping you work out what to sell and what to donate/give away, then let’s do it.

Simple Tips on Selling Your Unwanted Stuff 

  • Items need to be in excellent condition in order to sell, particularly online.
  • Only trying to sell large items that are in very good condition or smaller items that are quite literally as good as new.
  • Try selling in batches rather than individually (lower-priced items and kids clothes sell well in small batches).
  • Vintage and designer items still need to be in very good condition. Unless it’s exceptionally desirable, don’t try selling anything damaged.
  • Unless what you’re selling is genuine vintage or very desirable you won’t get anywhere near what you paid for it, no matter how well you’ve cared for it over the years.
  • Look at similar items for sale and price accordingly.
  • Hobby-related items are easier to sell (for you) in batches. Look for message boards or Facebook groups related to the hobby and see if there are any interested buyers.
  • Be willing to accept less than you want for an item. After all, you just want it out of your home.

It can be difficult to accept that the stuff we’ve paid good money for is now virtually worthless. In fact, it can be depressing. But the bottom line and the reason you’re here is to simplify life. Before deciding to sell any of your unwanted items, ask yourself whether doing so serves to simplify life or add another complication.

Over the years I have given away tens of thousands of things (sold a few too) and some of the stuff I donated was valuable. When I closed down my jewellery business I gave the vast majority of my stock away, simply because the weight of it was unbearable.

Now that time has passed, do I feel regret at having not gotten some money out of that stuff? Not in the slightest. In fact I feel lighter just thinking about it.

While this post is about selling, I just want to offer a view of the other side because willingly letting go is such a delight. So by all means, try selling your stuff but also keep this mantra in mind when you do:

Try selling once, then donate – never to be thought of again.

 

The 2015 Simple Living Handbooks

The 2015 Simple Living Handbooks - Free

We might be closing in on the end of February (when did that happen?) but it’s never too late to think about what you want your year to be. If you haven’t already, ask yourself what you want to see when you stand at the end of 2015 and look back.

Last year I wrote the 2014 in 2014 Declutter Handbook to help people see a simpler, slower home at the end of the year and over 6,000 people did just that. Many of them decluttered tens of thousands of items from their homes and created the simpler, slower lives they were craving.

As 2014 drew to a close, I had many requests for a 2015 challenge that would help participants extend their efforts to simplify life. I didn’t want to offer the same challenge again to those who had already completed it but I also didn’t want to ignore new participants and their need to start at the beginning.

While it may be a little later than I’d hoped, the 2015 Simple Living Handbooks (Stages One and Two) have landed.

This is the first time I’ve split the Simple Living Handbook (previously known as the 2014 in 2014 Annual Declutter Challenge) into two separate resources. 

Stage One has been written for those just beginning the journey into simpler, slower living and who need guidance in starting and maintaining their simplifying and decluttering efforts.

It is a month-by-month guidebook that leads you through decluttering all major areas of your home. Completing this book and the checklists and exercises included will change your home from one of overwhelming clutter to one of clutter-free calm.

The chapters we cover in the Stage One Handbook are:

  • Baby Steps
  • Utility Spaces
  • Paper Clutter
  • Bedrooms
  • Wardrobes
  • Kitchen
  • Big Jobs
  • Living Spaces
  • Memories
  • Change
  • Consolidation
  • Celebration

Stage Two has been designed for those who are ready to go further in their simplifying efforts. Maybe you already have a very good handle on the ‘stuff’ side of simplifying or have been actively decluttering for some time and feel ready to focus on other areas of your home and life.

This is also a month-by-month guidebook with checklists and exercises for each area we cover. But rather than focus only on the physical side of simplifying, Stage 2 looks at:

  • Finding your Why
  • Revisiting Clutter
  • Emotional and Aspirational Clutter
  • Establishing Rhythms
  • Creating Simple Systems for your Home
  • Adding, Not Subtracting
  • Simplify you Food
  • Green Cleaning
  • Green Living
  • Slowing Down and Moving More
  • Social Media
  • Comparisons
  • Digital Life
  • Mindful Holidays

(Please note, the complete Stage 2 Handbook will be released in March. For now, you can download the first seven chapters.)

If you’re in doubt as to which handbook you need, I suggest you start with Stage One and ensure you have the basics of simplifying on lockdown. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past 4 years of simple living, it’s that the entire process is anything but straightforward, so you really want to have your ducks in a row before moving on to the next stage.

So, welcome to 2015! Is this the year you create a simpler, slower home?

Go ahead and download your copy here:

The 2015 Simple Living Handbook: Stage 1

The 2015 Simple Living Handbook: Stage 2

It’s free. It’s really good. And it’s going to help you get started on the road to a simpler, slower – regardless of where or what time of the year you begin.

6 Simple Living Lessons Learnt at… Disneyland?

6 Simple Living Lessons Learnt at... Disneyland?

Wait. What?

Simple living and Disneyland… Really?

Surely what I actually mean is that it’s simple to:

  • spend a lot of money at Disneyland
  • come home with a suitcase full of plastic souvenirs and mouse ears after a few days at Disneyland
  • have an emotional meltdown before breakfast at Disneyland

But no. Last month we visited Disneyland for the first time as a family and it was magical. It was tiring and occasionally overwhelming for all of us, but magical. And what I found most interesting was how much I learned about life while we were there.

Seriously.

Yes, I learnt how to avoid patented Disney Store meltdowns. Yes, I learnt that the mint juleps at the French Market Restaurant are exceptional, and only made better by the beignets also sold there. Yes, I also learnt that Martin Luther King holiday weekend was not a wise time to visit.

But the biggest lessons? Well, they were somewhat more surprising and apply to a great deal more of life than five days in Anaheim.

1. Slow down to enjoy the details

One of the things I loved about Disneyland was the depth of detail. Lining up for rides never felt boring because there was always a hidden Mickey to find or a tiny, delightful detail created simply to capture the imagination. If we charged through the park, never taking the time to look closer, we would have missed so many of these tiny, delightful details. A lot like life really.

2. Explore and go deeper

Take a different route, go against the crowd, ignore the guidebooks, toss the maps and see what you stumble upon. Some of the best experiences in life come when we don’t take things at face value. That applies to people, places, thoughts and assumptions. And Disneyland.

3. Embrace your inner child 

Skip, run, jump in puddles, ride the rollercoaster, laugh loudly, get lost in the fantasy. Those experiences that seem so vibrant as a child are available to adults too, you just need to embrace it.

4. Be content in the moment

It’s easy to fall into FOMO – that constant fear that whatever is happening over there is better than what you’re experiencing. That line is shorter, that parade is more exciting, that food looks tastier, those seats have a better view, they’re having more fun. Let it go and look a little closer at what you’re doing. Really put yourself in the moment, soak it up and be content.

5. It’s OK to check out when you’re not feeling it

We all get tired. We all have low-energy moments. We all think maybe we will lose our minds if we have to hear that freaking song from Frozen one more time. It’s OK. Take a moment, take an hour, have a rest, opt out. We’re not designed to go and go and go forever, and it’s perfectly wonderful to check out sometimes. I may or may not have rested my eyes on a bench on Tom Sawyer’s Island when I really wasn’t feeling it.

6. Look after your spine

Slightly more practical in nature, but this lesson is vital to your enjoyment of both Disneyland and life in general. Particularly if you find yourself carrying a lethargic 4-year-old around for great lengths of time. So, look after your spine! Future You will thank you for it.

 

Happy Monday, friends.

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