My Frugal Habits that have Stood the Test of Time

Our ever-blooming orchid

I’m going to start this post with a confession: I’m not actually very frugal.

Not really, not at heart.

For instance, we just bought a new (to us) vehicle, on credit, and it’s a gas-guzzling mini-van.

Percentage of trips with more than one human inside: approximately 1%.

It seemed to make sense at the time, and yes, it does make shopping at Costco easier, but the number of times we’ve actually needed a mini-van to do what we were doing is a bare fraction. Live & learn, I guess, plus we’ve been driving a lot less!

Essentially, I’ve learned that I’m frugal when I have to be, cheap about things that make me anxious, and a 100% middle-class suburban mom when it comes to a few things. Like the mini-van.

I’m in no way “all-frugal-all-the-time” — I’m not even going to tell you about all the ice cream we eat or just how many Amazon boxes landed on our porch in December — but there ARE a handful of habits I’ve held on to since the earliest days of this blog when we were living on a single income and I was a stay-at-home mom. These are my stand-bys, saving us a few dollars here and there, making it possible for us to have adventures — whenever we can go back out into the world again.

#1. Making my own yogurt

As I type this, I’ve got a pot with 3 litres of milk on the stove, slowly heating up to 180 degrees. Once it gets there, I’ll turn it off and let it cool to 120 with the lid on, stir in a quarter cup of last week’s yogurt from the fridge, pour it into glass jars which I’ll put in my instant pot, fill with hot tap water, and let sit for 6 hours. It’s that easy! It saves a ton of money and a load of plastic containers, and it guarantees that my kids have a healthy, probiotic snack all week. We use it in smoothies, with granola, stirred into oatmeal, and in mini mason jars every day in their school lunches, flavoured with some local maple syrup. As I’ve observed before, having frugal healthy snacks and ingredients available means the kids will choose those options more often.

I’ll teach you how if you ever want to learn!

#2. YNAB

I can honestly say, the budget app YNAB saves me thousands of dollars every year.

I don’t get anything out of promoting it here–no kick-backs, fees, pats on the back, nothing. I just truly believe this budgeting software is awesome! I’ve never tried any other one, so I can’t compare. It’s possible that using ANY budgeting app might be just as good, but since I’ve only tried this one, I will recommend it ūüôā

I’ve been subscribing for a few years and in that time, I’ve gone through periods of using it and periods of letting it slide. The times of letting it slide, that’s when I’ve gotten into trouble financially, even when our income went up.

The trick I’ve found is spending just a few minutes with my budget every day. This January 1, I started tending my budget first thing every morning, and it has been hugely rewarding. It just gives me much more control over where we are spending our money, by encouraging me to set aside the amounts for all the upcoming bills I know we’re going to have. So every paycheque, I slot a certain amount into the mortgage line, a certain amount for groceries, electricity, water bill, internet, cell phones, etc., etc.

This way, I know when I have extra money. I know that if I overspend in one category or have an unexpected expense, that it has to come out of another category. It allows me to react sensibly to the curve-balls, and really enjoy when we have any extra.

I can also use it to track things like back-to-school expenses, or how much that little weekend visit to Ottawa costs, so I can budget for those things in advance instead of being surprised by them.

The other benefit it has is providing a neutral place for my partner and I to talk about money. I can show him where we’re at, and we can figure out together where we want to be, then work out goals together, and track our progress. It’s taken a lot of the emotion and guess-work out of our money talks, and helped us get into alignment with one another.

#3. Drinking tap water

This one is very un-exciting, but it is healthy, frugal and environmentally sustainable. A great triple-hitter.

We are lucky to have a great-tasting, safe water supply, so it is an easy choice to make for us. My daughter and I are constantly refilling our water bottles, while my partner and son prefer Bubly . . . Not the most frugal choice, but it could be worse!

#4. Hanging most of our clothes up to dry

While I do use the dryer for our linens, I still hang up our clothes to dry. It takes a few minutes in the evening to hang it up on our folding drying racks, but usually my partner and I do it together, so it’s a pleasant little part of our evening routine. I’ve read that it reduces wear and tear on our clothes, and it uses much less energy than the dryer, even though we use the ceiling fan to help things along.

It’s even nicer once the sun gets warm enough because then our clothes come in smelling wonderful and outsidey: better than any perfumed laundry additive! While I would love a laundry line, our yard doesn’t offer a great solution for that, so I just bring our drying racks outside and place them in the sunniest spot on the lawn. It gets me outside for a few minutes of peaceful, quiet alone time. It’s really serene — now I really can’t wait for spring!

#5. Staying put in our “starter home”

We’ve contemplated moving so many times since landing here. Wanting something closer to my sister, or closer to the lake, or in a fancier neighbourhood or a cooler house. But something has kept us here every time.

Our house is nowhere near perfect, but the truth is, there’s nowhere that’s perfect! There will always be pros and cons, but the sticking point for us is that this house is pretty cheap. We’re getting to the half-way point of paying down our mortgage by now, and it is really hard to contemplate making that number bigger instead of smaller. Plus, from here we can both walk to work, which saves us thousands per year on parking, gas, wear and tear, and only needing one vehicle.

Moreover, our expenses here are pretty predictable. We know what our bills will be month to month. And, we can see most of the problems coming down the road, so we can make a plan to deal with them.

I have another, very selfish reason: in this house I have my own little room where I do school work, yoga and writing. A precious space all my own where I can close the door and be myself. It’s hard to find four-bedroom houses in our price range, and I am very reluctant to give up this luxury!

I’m not saying we’ll never move, but for now we’re deciding that this mess is our mess, and in this mess we’ll stay.

#6. Cooking meals at home

A lot of this blog has been dedicated to cooking, recipes and shopping smart. Even in this busy season, we cook most of our own meals, though when we’ve had more money we’ve eaten out a bit more and tried to support small, local restaurants that we value for bringing delicious variety to our city’s culinary landscape.

We have a few simple staples that we rotate, like spaghetti sauce and chili, that we get a few meals out of, plus other favourites that we repeat often. My partner and I do a very loose meal plan on Sunday before grocery shopping so we have an idea of what we will eat that week, plus we keep certain staples on hand so we can throw together a healthy-ish “emergency” meal at a moment’s notice if need be.

#7. Eating more veggie meals

We’ve been eating less and less meat, and choosing mostly local, grass-fed when we do eat meat. Not that we never have a burger or a sausage, but for us, adding more veggie meals to our repertoire works a lot better than cutting out meat entirely.

For instance, we’ve learned that the kids like Red Thai Veggie Curry (with butter instead of coconut oil), and they like Butternut Squash Soup and even Beet Soup. A couple of their favourites — mac & cheese, and perogies — are simple and meat-free, and we’ll occasionally make a vegetarian burrito bar with scrambled egg, refried beans, tomatoes, cilantro, salsa and cheese. We’ve recently fallen in love with breaded baked cauliflower bites which are made even better dipped in the best thing in the world: Sriracha mayo!

One thing I’ve done to make it easier for us to choose veggie more often is to make a list of all the vegetarian dishes we all like, and put it into a shared note with my partner. Every Sunday before grocery shopping, we take a look at the list and choose a few of those options that sound good and we haven’t had for awhile. This helps us remember all the vegetarian things we love, and it’s really working to keep our meat consumption low, without missing it at all.

#8. Walking

It’s my frugal workout. It’s my transportation to work and back. It’s my personal and couples therapy. It’s my favourite date and best hang-out activity. Yes, sometimes I’ll even drive to my hike, but I do a lot of walking around my neighbourhood too.

Last fall, the kids, their cousins, my sister and I hiked the 10K at the Conservation Area. I can’t even tell you how much fun it was! We saw all these gorgeous, hidden vistas, and the feeling of triumph when we got to the 10 of 10 kilometres was absolutely incredible. We made some amazing memories that day, and the kids learned that they can do hard things.

Maybe some day I’ll take my walking into the back country with a tent, sleeping pad and ziplock baggies of dehydrated food on my back, but for now I am content to stick to exploring our local vistas with a day pack, water bottle and some home-made cookies.

There you have it! 8 frugal habits that are still saving us money, keeping us healthy, and reducing our environmental footprint just a little. Helps me feel less guilty for the mini-van!

None of these things are going to make us millionaires — and that’s not really my goal here — but like a rudder in a boat, they help to keep us stable and on course.

These are the ones that are here to stay.

I would love to hear what frugal habits have stayed with you through the years. Let me know in the comments!


Nerdmobile cleaning cart

I blogged about it awhile back, but I finally did it: created my very own cleaning cart! And yes it is as exciting as it sounds (that is, if it sounds like the most exciting thing ever!).

What you see in the photo is my version of this cleaning cart. On the front is a blue bag for laundry, the inside is for items that belong in another room, with a red bag for small things or things that belong in my daughter’s room. On the back I have a garbage bag and a recycling bag.

This is the tidying version; when I’m doing cleaning too I have a tray with my cleaning stuff and rags that goes on top. The only additional things I have to lug are the broom, mop or vacuum if I’m using them.

The idea of the cart is that you set yourself up to sweep through the house once, tidying (and/or cleaning) as you go, with no time-wasting back-tracking to put stuff back where it belongs. Once I heard the idea, I was intrigued. Once I tried it, I was sold! It really works. It’s super fast to just stick things into the appropriate bags in the cart and move along. Otherwise, I tend to pick up a sock and bring it into the bedroom, there noticing a coffee cup and bringing it to the kitchen, where I notice that the stovetop is dirty, which I clean, and before I know it an hour has gone by and nothing substantial has been accomplished. With the cart, even if I can completely clean/tidy one room before a minor emergency distracts me, my life is seriously improved.

One fantastic additional thing I discovered about this cart is that my preschooler was really into helping me tidy up the living room! I guess she enjoyed sorting the stuff into the different bags. We actually tidied up the entire living room together, which really helped my sanity, and occupied at least 15 minutes of our time.

So, if you have a handy shopping cart like the one in the picture, try out the Nerdmobile technique and let me know how it works for you!

Taking Refuge in the Moment

buddhistI just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Power“, a wonderful book with a deliberately and cleverly misleading title, since the “power” he talks about is not the power that people are generally seeking, but rather the power to be calm and spread peace wherever you go and with whomever you meet.

Two of the practices he describes in this book (besides sitting meditation which most are familiar with) are a) general mindfulness, and b) walking meditation. I think he focuses on these practices in this book because they are very easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives, but they help to centre you very effectively and quickly.

Mindfulness is the skill of bringing your mind into the present moment and not being taken away by thoughts, memories, worries, etc. Most buddhists do this through the breath. When you follow the breath you are drawn into your body, into the present moment, and you allow your thoughts and worries and regrets, etc. (as well as your plans, and desires, and nostalgic remembrances), to drop away, leaving you considerably less stressed and more focused.

Much is made of the power of sitting meditation where you watch the breath for extended periods, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that you can get some benefit by bringing mindfulness into your daily life in short snatches. For example, when the telephone rings, you can use that as a recall to the moment, and take one or two deep breaths to centre you before you answer. Or stopping at a red light, this can also be an opportunity to watch the breath.

He has a lovely poem that helps with this simple meditation. The word pairs are said silently with the in and out breath:

in, out
deep, slow
calm, ease
smile, release
present moment, wonderful moment

I’ve been watching my breath and reciting this poem regularly over the last few weeks and it has given me access to many moments of calm and peace, helping me cope with some of the stresses of being heavily pregnant and parenting a toddler in the heat of late summer!

Walking meditation is an expansion of this mindfulness practice, but instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on your feet as you walk. Whenever you walk, the author explains, you should make your steps gentle on the earth. You are free, you do not need to hurry: walk calmly and slowly as if the purpose of walking is simply to walk.

As you walk, you can say the poem in pace with your breath, which will be in pace with your footsteps, maybe one in-breath for every two steps, or more.

Walking to work every day is so often a blur for me. It’s a short walk, but I usually spend the time thinking about work–sometimes bringing back some conflict from the day before, or worrying about what will be in my email inbox today. But since I’ve been practicing walking meditation, this time is so calm, such an island in my day, that I really feel that I can start taking refuge in the moment.

Now what does this have to do with a frugal or green mindset? I think plenty.

In terms of frugality, many of us turn to shopping and spending money when we are stressed. I am so guilty of this. And most of my stress-fuelled purchases have been big ones, undoing months of savings from baking my own bread and using baking soda for deodorant. The more tools I have to reduce stress and encourage a peaceful frame of mind, the less likely I am to go out shopping.

What’s more, the more value I place on being mindful and present, the less likely I am to seek distractions like magazines or shiny electronics. Think about it: if everyone started practicing mindful breathing on the bus, Blackberries would cease to exist!

The more unmindful consumerism in our world, the more energy and resource waste, the more landfill produced, the more waterways polluted. When we make our footsteps gentle on the earth, we also tend to reduce our ecological footprint by reducing consumption, waste and pollution.

Try these mindfulness techniques and see where you can fit them into your day. And please refer to any book by Thich Nhat Hanh to get a deeper, richer explanation of these practices. Check out his 1996 book¬†The Long Road Turns to Joy on Google Books–a Limited Preview release specifically about walking meditation.

What’s your Walkscore?

walk_signWhile cruising through my Blogroll one day, I ended up on One Green Generation, which had a link to a fascinating site called

Basically, it uses Google Maps to calculate your distance from important amenities like grocery stores, libraries, parks, restaurants, cinemas, etc. to give your neighbourhood a certain score based on proximity.  The higher the score, the less need you have for a car.

Our score in Centretown Ottawa? 93/100 (woo hoo!)

Our two old places in Toronto: 83 and 77 respectively

My parents’ place in Sudbury: 53

The house I grew up in: 10 out of 100

Interestingly, every move I’ve ever made has brought me to a more walkable location! (Well, except for my year in Montreal but we won’t count that.) Though I often dream about farm life, walkability is something I really value and would find it a major adjustment to live without. In fact, I think it’s a key component of my being frugal and urban!

So, what’s the deal with walkability? ¬†The website gives a few points:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1 Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15‚Äď45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car!2

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It’s easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don’t need to drive between destinations.

I would agree with all these points, and would also add that being able to walk to work (something possible in Centretown Ottawa) means having more time to spend at home with the kids. My “commute” is less than 5 minutes door-to-door, which means I maximize the time I can spend with my daughter instead of sitting in traffic. Same goes for my husband, whose “commute” is about double mine.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years living in walkable neighbourhoods is that where people can walk, they do, and the fact that there are people out walking around, usually at all hours of the day & night, greatly increases the safety of neighbourhoods. Jane Jacobs calls this “eyes on the street”. The more mixed use and pedestrian traffic a neighbourhood has, the less crime tends to exist in a place. In fact, many parks in dense urban neighbourhoods are actually safer than suburban parks at night, simply because there are more people strolling around.

Finally, having a car would mean greatly increasing our cost of living since we would not only have to worry about the car (and most likely a car loan), but also the insurance, gas, maintenence and repairs that go along with car ownership. Not to mention an automatic $100/month just to park the thing!

I found this website really fun, and as you can see, used it to check out all the places I’ve ever lived. I would definitely use this when choosing our next apartment or house.

Buy Nothing Fail: I got me a freezer!

So, after MONTHS of deliberation, I finally bought my tiny chest freezer today from the Rideau Loblaws. It was definitely not an impulse buy: I’ve been weighing the pros and cons, and several times I’ve gone to bed having decided not to get one, only to wake up thinking about all the food I can freeze before Tiny Baby arrives.

So I will confess my sins on Crunchy Chicken, and move on to this new world of freezer meals . . . which is crazy! There are so many websites out there dedicated to “Once-a-Month Cooking” or OAMC as they are calling it on the interweb, but I think I need these last 2 months of pregnancy to slowly build up a supply of prepared dinners for the fall.

To be honest,¬†I don’t even know what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve never been a very good freezer-user, so this lifestyle shift is going to require some training. My plans for the freezer include:

– a lot of home-made stock, in small packages (great for sauces)

– a bunch of local organic meat, especially ground beef

– cheese sauce (is it okay in the freezer??)

– pizzas: I’m planning to freeze dough that’s been rolled out, and separate baggies of pizza sauce in one-pizza sizes

– shredded cheese for said pizzas (Cheese is on sale this week at Loblaws for $4.99 for a large block): just shred cheese and lay it out on a cookie sheet to freeze in individual shreds, then sweep it into a baggie for storage

– a basic tomato-meat sauce that I can use as a base for either chili, spaghetti or lasagne by just adding different spices/ingredients

– some tomatoes if I can get some nice ones cheap at the farmer’s market. I’ve heard if you run a frozen tomato under hot water, the skins slip right off–great for sauces!

– 2 or three organic chickens

Not sure if I’ll have room for all this stuff, or if I’ll have room for more, but I think if I get these put away, we’ll be pretty well set-up for the first couple months of Tiny Baby’s appearance. ¬†I’m glad I have some time to build up my stash. Next challenge will be to make sure we use all the stuff we put away!

Any other suggestions for freezable meals are very welcome!

A man, a girl, and a box

It’s the common comment: buy a kid a fancy toy, and they’ll spend more time playing with the box. ¬†Well, yesterday I bypassed the fancy toy and went straight for the box. Actually I found the box in our basement recycling area, probably left over from someone’s August 1st move.

It’s a big box, but not appliance-big: about 3 feet high and 2 feet deep and wide. Just big enough to be a little house for a two-and-a-half-year-old.

I knew she’d have a ton of fun with it, but what I didn’t figure in was how much my husband would enjoy the “project” of building a cardboard box house for our little girl. ¬†To begin with, he opened up and reinforced the bottom (was the top) to give the structure about 6 more inches of height–enough for our girl to stand up straight inside. ¬†Then he got out his X-acto knife and cut out a lovely door. ¬†He’s still planning on making a cabin window in the side for her to look out of, but he’s planning an a-symmetrical design to look x-tra cool.

Well, it was a big hit right from the start: she kept wanting to go in, and her daddy kept on saying, “Not yet” and telling her what the next stage of the process was. Then when he got the door cut out, she went inside right away and hid, and brought her blankie in, and hid . . . it was really fun to watch her play with it.

If it rains today (and probably even if it doesn’t), we’re going to get out the paints grandma gave our little girl for Christmas, and paint the house all pretty.

When I picked up the box yesterday morning, I had no idea that it would make for such a fun family project. ¬†The excitement we all felt about turning this box into a toy was something I will remember, and I hope she will too. I want her to remember that joy of making something from nothing. To me it shows, it’s not the money you spend on your kids, but the time you spend with them that counts.

Urban Foraging, Experiment #2: Black Currants!

Today while walking . . . well, somewhere in . . . a city . . . I noticed something dark purple and shiny calling out to me from some shrubbery. ¬†It was . . . it couldn’t be . . . no, it really was a blackcurrant bush! ¬†And there were ripe purple berries dangling there just begging to be picked. (photos to come)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, that such a treasure had not already been gleaned by another observant forager like myself. ¬†I filed the location and vowed to return at a more convenient time to collect my treasure. ¬†X marks the spot ūüôā

So I returned under cover of dusk, wearing a green dress so as to blend in with the shrubbery, and spent a good half-hour picking.  Oh, the smell!  I was in cassis heaven as I plucked the juicy berries from the branches.

I brought my treasures home and marched through my little girl’s bedtime routine all the while thinking about the jam I could make with my find.

Well, after getting her into bed, and chatting with my mom on the phone I got down to the serious business of microwave jam making . . . at 11 o’clock.

First, I found a recipe seemingly from a Four-H club (?) for making small batches of microwave jam.  Aha!  Perfect.  For what I had was the makings of a small batch.

I knew that when I started out, even before I had measured my one-and-almost-three-quarters cups of picked berries. ¬†The recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cut up fruit, but I was willing to go a little on the lean side. ¬†I even included all of the “blemished” fruit, hoping that it wouldn’t spoil the flavour too much.

Then I topped and tailed them, and washed them. ¬†In the measuring cup full of water, several of the more blemished ones floated to the top. ¬†“That can’t be good,” I thought, and took a peek inside. Nope, not good. ¬†It was a dried-out stinky worm-bed inside my beautiful berries.

There was no denying the fact that they most certainly would spoil the flavour, so I went through them again, discarding any berries sporting what looked remotely like a worm hole.  Down to . . . a very respectable 1 cup of washed, sorted, topped and tailed berries.  Sigh.

So I decided to halve the recipe. ¬†“At least I’ll get one jar of jam,” I reassured myself as midnight struck and my dear partner (who had stood by me during the sad, sad culling process) went to bed.

The recipe calls for:

1 1/2 cups of chopped fruit

flavourings and lemon juice (this refers to a mysterious unlinked “chart”)

1 1/2 cups sugar

So I halved the sugar and added a bit over a tablespoon of lemon juice for good measure, and set about following the instructions.

Heat in microwave about 6 minutes, or until boiling–mine took much less time. Stir well, and then cook in microwave 10 to 13 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. ¬†Mine went faster here too, and I was done after about 6 minutes. ¬†It says at this point you should chill a spoonful in the fridge for 15 minutes to test the consistency, but I was pretty sure mine was jelling, so I jarred it*.

And this is what I got:

Approximately 2/3 of a one-cup jar of black currant jam.  Sigh.

Well, what this experiment taught me was respect for two things: 1, the price of high-quality blackcurrant jam, and 2, the value of pesticides.

I’m going to bed now, but at least I can look forward to some tasty jam tomorrow morning.

* Microwave jam is not processed, so it must be refrigerated immediately and will last for about a month in the fridge.

Confessions of an Organized Housewife

I mentioned upon my return from my holidays that I had borrowed a couple of books from my mom. ¬†Well, this is one of them, and frankly the more exciting of the two. ¬†I’ve borrowed it at least once before, and it’s really quite awesome.

To begin with, there’s the title. ¬†For some reason, it speaks to me. ¬†She is confessing her clean little secret, and really, she’s proud of it. ¬†I guess part of me really wants to be an organized housewife, just like her.

So what does she offer? Plenty!  Here is a breakdown of the gems to be found in this book:

Рpep talks that work.  Really.  After reading this book I often come away actually excited about cleaning and organizing my house.  She points out that by working on improving your technique, you raise houswork out of the mundane into a craft. She also discusses the benefits of having a clean and orderly house, including the feelings of peace and enjoyment of the home.  To me, this is a frugal thought: if we like being at home, we will be less driven to leave it for expensive alternatives.

– six “Basic Organizing Principles” including: Think Before You Act, wherein you stop working by habit and instead think through all the steps of a project or day or organization of a room, looking for the most logical time-saving way to approach it; Discard and Sort, wherein you de-clutter each area of your home so that there is “a place for everything and everything in its place” and everything you have on hand is useful and used; Group, which is pretty self-explanatory, except that she often groups by use instead of by type so that you might keep all your baking spices with your baking stuff and all your savoury spices near the stove if that’s where you use them, instead of keeping all your spices together; Be Motion Minded, considering how you move in a room, and saving time by putting things close at hand; Use Your Accrued Benefits, wherein you learn that it makes more sense to iron 6 shirts at a time, than to iron one shirt at a time six times; Do it Daily, so that things don’t get out of hand; and finally, become an “Indoor Scout“, leaving a room better than you found it each time.

– advice for building your own planner that will accomodate your and your family’s needs.

– efficient ways of moving through the house methodically so that you’re not re-tracing your steps or wasting time. ¬†The coolest idea here is her housework cart that she uses, like a hotel chambermaid. ¬†It’s totally collapsable and handles garbage, laundry, sorting of “stuff”, and cleaning all in one amazing little buggy! ¬†Seriously, I’m building me one of these.

There’s lots of other tips here, many of which involve using labelled containers to sort stuff in cupboards, etc., but you should really read the book if you want to get into that much detail.

I’ll end with the most reassuring part of the book, the second-last chapter which is called “Where to Start”. ¬†In case you have a tendancy to get massively overwhelmed by books like this, she has a little checklist with the basics that should be covered before you move on to more ambitious home organization projects. ¬†The basics:

– I am able to keep the house picked up; check, for the most part.

– I am able to keep the laundry current; check.

– Meals are well-prepared and served regularly; check

– The kitchen is usually in good order; thanks to my partner doing the dishes every night, this is also a check

– Bathrooms are cleaned and straightened regularly; this is a new one, but I’m doing pretty checking good on it so far

– I am able to keep entry areas clean and tidy; hmmm

Well, I’m doing pretty good on 5 out of 6, so maybe the entry way is a good place to start. ¬†In any case, I’m very reassured that I am winning at 5 of these basics. ¬†Her recipe for starting a new level of cleanliness is to give yourself and your family six weeks to get used to it.

So, starting today I will aim to keep my entry area clean and tidy, thus basically completing all six of her basics, and preparing to enter a new level of household organization.

That is, until Tiny Baby arrives.  After that, I make no promises.

Frugal + Urban: a contradiction in terms?

apartmentOn a lot of the blogs and websites I’ve visited, the really frugal families and moms are living on rural or semi-rural properties. ¬†There’s a big emphasis on raising your own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, veggies, fruit, etc., as well as on fairly drastic measures to reduce energy and resource use and go “off the grid”.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how to write about frugality from an apartment-dwelling middle-of-the-city perspective, especially when I don’t even have a balcony! ¬†But it doesn’t take long to see that there are frugal benefits to living in the city too. It’s just a slightly different kind of frugality.

Living in the city doesn’t rely on a car. ¬†This is the number one biggest saving for us living right in Centretown. ¬†We can walk almost everywhere. ¬†Cycling expands our radius significantly, and anywhere else we need to go, we can take one of the buses that conveniently pass through the city just a few blocks away. ¬†

Where rural families can rely on the abundance of Nature, urban families can rely on the abundance of consumers (otherwise known as Scavenging). ¬†I’ve picked up many useful items for free that were left at people’s curbs. ¬†While it doesn’t compare to growing your own food, this kind of post-consumer re-cycling is another way to glean from the area around you.

In the city, there are many things we can do for free or cheap entertainment. ¬†The library is just down the street. ¬†There are three “play” parks, and several other scenic parks, within a few blocks from us, which we use heavily for most of the year. ¬†There are also museums and in the summer, Centretown Movies that play classic films outdoors for a “pay-what-you-can” donation. ¬†All within a short walk from our house.

The biggest benefit of enjoying neighbourhood entertainment is getting to know our neighbours. ¬†I love seeing the same people at the park, the grocery store, the musuem, and just bumping into them on the street. ¬†Having a baby, now a toddler, has brought me in contact with a whole network of moms & dads whom I now call my friends. ¬†We socialize mainly in an ad-hoc manner when we see each other at the playground, and sometimes we trade hosting for dinners or brunch. ¬†This type of socializing doesn’t cost a thing, but to me, it’s priceless.

So, while I don’t have the benefit of living off the land (and I do wish for some land, some day, or even a small balcony!), or modifying my house to be more resource-efficient, there are definitely financial benefits to living in the city. ¬†The social benefits keep me sane, and stop me from longing for a farm of my own.

Mindfulness Monday

In the past month, two books on this subject have come to me randomly. ¬†One was a free “after hours yard sale” find, and another was put in the “giveaway” area of the garbage collection zone in our building’s basement (something I am grateful to our superintendant for! ¬†It’s our own internal “freecycle”). ¬†One book was A New Earth¬†by Ekhart Tolle, and another was Peace is Every Step¬†by Thich Naht Hanh. ¬†

Talk about synchronicity!  Sure, it took me taking notice of these books to pick them up, bring them home and read them, but they both came to me for free from different sources within a week or so.  The basic message of both books is the same: be mindful of the present moment.  It is all we have.  If we experience it with peace, enjoyment or enthusiasm, these energies will spread through our lives and to everyone we encounter.

So, why are you reading about mindfulness, a Buddhist practice, on a blog about frugality?  I think mindfulness can help to cure the ills of society, one of which is overconsumption and dissatisfaction with what we have.

These books teach that the present moment, right now, is all we have.  When we are carried away with our memories, good or bad, or when we engage in thinking or worrying about the future, we forget that we are alive right now, not in the past or the future.  Right now is the only moment we have to be happy, to feel the fullness and richness of life, to experience joy.

A lot of spending comes from dissatisfaction with where we’re at. ¬†If we consciously decide that “now” is all we have, and thus to experience the richness of each moment, the fullness of life right now, it reduces some of our desires for new toys, new clothes, a new “look”, a new life. ¬†

Some ideas summarized from these two books:

РUse your breath to bring your attention to the present moment.  Feel it go in and go out, and the pauses between.  Focus on the breath and quiet your mind.  Feel peaceful wherever you are.

– Your thoughts are not “you”. ¬†Your thoughts lead you away from the present moment and are quite likely to make you feel worried and anxious. ¬†Realize that you have a consciousness that is deeper than your thoughts, and you can separate yourself somewhat from the constant stream of thoughts that flood your mind. ¬†Your problems will seem less urgent when you create this kind of space.

РSmile.  A smile relaxes your face, sends endorphins through your body, and melts your worries away.  A smile sends positive, peaceful energy into the world.  A smile connects you to the present moment because the only time we can feel happy is right now, today, this moment.

Being frugal isn’t just about denying yourself expensive pleasures. ¬†It is just as much about cultivating satisfaction with what you have, and joy in the present moment.