Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Posts Tagged ‘home

Bigger plans

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As I go through the machinations of budgeting – writing the budget, tracking what I spend daily, reporting it weekly here – it strikes me that I spend a lot more time on the budget itself than on why I keep a budget.  This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself – I do the budget anyway, because it’s habit, and I know in the back of my mind that it’s hugely important – but sometimes it’s good to remember that it’s for a purpose and it fits into a bigger plan.

Really, it’s pretty simple, though.

First, I keep a budget for the here-and-now, so that I have an emergency fund if anything unexpected happens.  By keeping a budget I can live enough below my means to save money.  Saving money means there’s some flexibility if anything happens.  Also, when I’m used to living below my means, if something happens – like, say, a pay cut – we’re already used to living this way, so while it may be an adjustment, it’s not as much of a hardship as it could be.

The bigger thing, though, is that I have a plan – or at least some hopes – about what I can do with a stash of cash and the ability to lie frugally.  I want some land.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of land.  It could be in the city or the country.  I’m not really all that picky.  But I want some land on which I can have a home, grow some food, raise some animals, and generally live life a little more on my terms.

This won’t happen immediately, I know.  There are too many things up in the air right now, and too much to get sorted out first.  But by living on a budget now – thinking and writing and watching and tracking – I can better prepare for this much hoped for dream, even if it is a good ways in the future right now.  I’d do this anyway – living below my means is important enough anyway – but having a dream in place makes it even easier, and gives the work a real purpose.


Written by Jenn

April 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Clearing house

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A long time ago, in a land far away…

(Really, just a few years, and pretty much right here…)

…was a girl who really, really liked cool vintage stuff.

And so she went to thrift stores and she bought lots and lots of cool vintage stuff.  Glasses.  Casserole dishes.  Dresses.  Jewelry.  Furniture.  Blankets.  Lamps.  Purses.  Dishes.

Her vintage things were lovely – well made, interesting, and like nothing else that most other people would have (this girl liked things that were somewhat unique).  But she felt a little silly wearing much of the clothing, since she was really more a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl.  And some of the dishes had hairline cracks, so they couldn’t be heated too much.  And some of the linens had holes, or stains, or were just difficult to wash spaghetti sauce out of.  And some of the things that were lovely and perfect and mint, well, she was just afraid to use those, lest they get damaged.

And so, the girl wound up with an apartment full of vintage things that weren’t used, plus a whole lot of semi-equivalent items that were.  And although it never came anywhere close to those scary homes that show up on Hoarders, it became more difficult to clean and manage.

As is probably very obvious, that girl is me.  A love of vintage and a love of collecting combined with the need to have things around that I actually use and a general unwillingness to get rid of anything that still has use in it (even if I’m not actually using it) has made for a full apartment (and this is before we even start talking about the many, many books that live here too).

Now, I try to buy only what I need and have a specific use for.  If I need something, I still usually try to look for something cool and vintage, but also something that’s sturdy and will last well and that I’ll be willing to use (in all honestly, though, in almost all cases function wins out over form these days, although I appreciate the form of the functional in a whole new way – ask me about how much I love my dutch oven, for instance).  These days, that means more cast iron, stainless steel, and heavy glass than anything else.

But I do have my eye on some things that I want to buy, things that I think will be useful.  They will, however, also take up space.  Which means making space.  Which also means going on the warpath again and getting rid of yet more stuff.

I’m trying to keep in mind other benefits too, though.  Getting rid of things means it’s easier to keep this place clean.  It also means more room for things that are more important, such as food, water, and tools.  If I have to move, either for work or for lack of work, it will be easier and less expensive to move fewer things.  More space and tidiness means I’m happier at home, which makes it more likely that I will want to spend time here, which is usually far more frugal than going out.  And less stuff means more room for the projects and activities (and stuff that goes along with them) that help me be more frugal, like the seeds starting on the coffee table, and the sourdough starter, ginger beer starter, and sprouts I have in the kitchen.

This is not something that comes naturally to me at all, but it’s something that needs to be done, and something that I’ve talked about before.  Although I’m currently too busy to set defined goals, I’m trying to get a few things into the donation pile each day, to tidy up here and there, and to consciously think about what I really want and need in my life.

Written by Jenn

March 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

November challenge – 10×30

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With some of my work wrapping up, my schedule freeing up, and my state of mind loosening up, I’m looking for a new challenge.  I keep talking about doing another serious purge of the apartment, and since I’m feeling pretty motivated, I think this might be the right time to really start getting things in good order.

The apartment usually isn’t that messy, but there’s more stuff in here than I’d like, it does get away from us occasionally, and ‘d like to clear some of it out.  Less stuff means easier to clean and tidy.  Less stuff also means more room for hanging out, and yoga, and friends over, and all that good stuff.  It would be nice for The Boy to have a bit more space.  Also, I know that at some point I will likely have to move for work, and the more I can get rid of now, the better (moving just the books is likely to be a bit of a nightmare).

I’m calling this challenge to myself (and to you too, if you’d like to join in) 10×30.  The goal?  Getting rid of 10 things a day for 30 days for a total of 300 things out of the apartment for good.  Of course, in order to keep things on the level it’s not like I can get a whole lot of new things in either.  So, in addition to 10×30, I’m also going to make sure that if I do get anything new, an equivalent item has to leave (this is above and beyond the 10 per day that I’m shooting for).  Clothing in, clothing out.  Books in, books out.

While I have a few suspects already lined up for removal (have to start on the right foot) this will be a challenge.  I like my things, and I sometimes have a hard time getting rid of stuff in the moment, even though it almost always feels good after the fact.

As an incentive and to keep myself motivated, I’m going to keep track of things here.  Maybe with photos, if I can get my camera working, but I’ll definitely be monitering my progress – it might be every day, if I can swing it, or I might just make it a weekly thing, which also gives me the opportunity to anticipate or compensate for busy days by doing the work ahead of time or after the fact.  In any case, there will be updates and reports and all of that fun stuff as I look to purge some more stuff from life that just doesn’t need to be here anymore.

Off we go…

Written by Jenn

October 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Book sale

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I have, in my infinite wisdom (insert snicker here) managed to buy books not once but twice in the last 24 hours.

First was a visit to the public library’s annual booksale.  Table after table of books for the picking, although I only walked away with 6 books and 5 magazine (uh, yes…only…)  For the books, I got two novels that I’ve been wanting to read, two semi-school books, and two books to add to my self-sufficiency pile on root cellaring and butchering and processing meat (The Boy blanched a little, made a face, and then feigned ignorance for the latter two.)  The magazines consisted of Mother Earth News and Countryside.

And then today I woke up after a lousy night’s sleep (odd dreams about old dogs, dying children, and some seriously messed-up surgery) I went for a walk and stopped at the bookstore.  Two fiddle books, a manual of guitar chords, four children’s books, a John Irving novel, and two other novels I’ve been interested in reading.

Some books that I no longer need are on their way out to make for a bit more room but, in general, I’ve come to terms with my love of books, both for pleasure and for practicality.  I think, anyway.  And for now, I’m going to get some writing done and then sit myself down to peruse a new book on the couch with some tea.

*Edited to add: In case this wasn’t clear, in both cases these purchases were for a good cause.  The library booksale directly supports the public library, and the Goodwill bookstore supports their employment efforts in the community, and  I’m especially okay with purchases that have some kind of community benefit like this.

Written by Jenn

October 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm

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I study a relatively high-tech field, then come home and cook from scratch and knit on the couch.  I almost always have a laptop with me for work, but I listen to record on vinyl sometimes in the evening.  I have an iPod, but have a rotary dial phone hooked up in my kitchen by choice.  I can’t decide if I’m the best or the worst luddite ever.  At best, though, I think I’m at least a bit of an anachronism.

I don’t have a cell phone, and my favourite phone is a black rotary dial one that lives in the kitchen.  There’s also a pale pink/beige one on the bookshelf.  (I’m holding out for a red one).  While I’m still just hoping to learn to use it properly, I’m looking to replace my calculator with a slide rule.  When spending an evening at home I sometimes like to put a record on my turntable, usually James Taylor, or Jackson Browne, or Neil Young.  In the kitchen, I use older cast iron almost exclusively, and refuse teflon or anything that’s non-stick without just being well seasoned.  I have a hand egg-beater that I love to use, a food mill, and a stove-top kettle that have served me well.  My carpet sweeper means that I don’t need an electricity-hungry vacuum.

I’m not anachronistic in all ways, of course.  I use a computer for all of my work and, for now anyway, the typewriters simply sit (they need new ribbons, but I need some digital capacities).  I have an iPod that comes on bus rides and long runs with me.  I appreciate my brand new stove, my on-command hot water

Given the choice, I’d rather not only choose, but also use, old rather than new.  In some cases, I simply have newer versions of older things.  My record player, for instance, was new a number of years ago when I couldn’t find a working used version, as was the carpet sweeper I bought only a few weeks ago now.  But in most cases, I prefer the originals.  While almost all of my anacronistic-type things were inexpensive, that’s not really the point here.  Rather, the point is that I like old ways of doing things.  I like the quality inherent in many of the older things that I use, and the fact that they’ve lasted as long as they have.  They make sense for me, they work for me.  They feel as though they offer a sense of permanence, a link not only to the past, but the way things used to be.

I know in some ways that this is a somewhat romantic notion.  Some things – a return to the wringer washers, or the hauling of water – may not be desirable for some people (although, personally, I wonder sometimes how much I would actually mind.)  But I appreciate older things, a slow way of doings things, and even a return to more conscious, thoughtful way of living life.  If that’s what being a bit of an anacronism gets me, then I can work with that.

Written by Jenn

October 19, 2010 at 1:57 am

On books

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Awhile back, I’d mentioned that I was a bit concerned about the fact that one of my escapes seems to be heading to the local used bookstore and picking up a new-to-me book or two to read.  I’d found that when things were tough I tended to turn to book shopping as an escape – not something I normally do, but somewhat easy to defend since first, I was buying books to read and, second, I was supporting a thrift store in the process.  At the time, I also mentioned that I wanted to cut back a bit and see if I could reduce that expense a bit more.

Well…at this point I haven’t given up on the books, but I think I’m managing it better.

Although I bought books that I wanted to read, I was buying more than I am now.  While the purchases certainly weren’t indiscriminate, I wasn’t as thoughtful as I try now to be about what I was bringing home.  I’ve found that being aware not only of what I buy but also why I buy it to be very helpful (not just when it comes to books, actually) in planning and managing what I do choose to buy.

I find I buy books for two reasons.  First, I like to read.  Books are pleasurable.  I enjoy finding something that I’ve wanted to read and then actually being able to get immersed and absorbed in the content, whether it’s stories or recipes, fact or fiction.  They’re also an inexpensive source of entertainment.  $4 (and usually less) for a used book that I get to keep is better value, for me anyway, than going to a movie, or out to a bar, or buying most video games.  Beyond electricity to read at night and the odd accompanying pot of tea, the cost is usually nothing.  And, psychologically speaking, I love being cozied up on the couch with tea and wool blankets and a good book to spend an afternoon or evening.

So, to keep the shopping for books a bit more under control.  I have a list of authors that I look for, and a few books in mind.  The authors and books are ones that I know I’ll read again and again, and are worth it for me to have.  John Irving.  Annie Dillard.  Neil Gaiman.  Annie Proulx.  Edgar Allen Poe.  Kate DiCamillo.  Classics of various descriptions.  Barbara Kingsolver.  Diane Ackerman.  Agatha Christie.  Neal Stephenson.  William Gibson.

I also read for reference, and try to keep part of my library as very practical and useful.  When a book shows up on making quilts or knitting sweaters, or goatkeeping, or companion planting, I tend to look twice at it (unless I have one already, a distinction I think I’ve been much better at making lately as well).  I want a library not only of books that I want to read for pleasure, but also ones that will be useful.  In some ways this is actually the broader category as I seek out materials that will be useful and informative for building a life that’s even more sustainable.

Admittedly, I already have a lot of books here, and I have yet to read them all (far from it, actually).  I have everything from cookbooks to the classics, and from guidebooks to graphic novels.  But I appreciate being able to have what I want at my fingertips.  I like being able to loan books out.  I worry that, as with so many of the truly good things that make cities great, that library hours and services will soon be cut.  I enjoy having my own copies that I can fall asleep in bed with, make notes in pencil on, and hide little scraps and bits and pieces in the pages to find later.

One day they will have to be moved.  I know this, and I sort of dread that day, both for the pile that I imagine will need to be out the door, and for the struggle involved in moving the rest.  But for now, I like having them, and I appreciate that such a great source of books is close by, not only for the rough days when I’m out hunting for that one book that I want to read, but for all the others that have passed and that are yet to come where I curl up and have swaths of information and whole other worlds ready at my fingertips.

Written by Jenn

October 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Clearing the clutter

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With a season spent largely indoors looming infront of me, I find myself thinking more about rearranging and settling in.  I also find myself thinking about clearing out as well, though, in an effort to make a bit more space to comfortably spend my time at home.

With many interests and things on the go, I tend to have a lot of stuff kicking around as well (not that many interests inherently leads to a lot of stuff necessarily, but in my case, it certainly tends to.)  There are knitting and sewing materials, cooking utensils and cookbooks, musical instruments, art supplies, and DVDs and books.  There’s also vastly different clothing – almost one set for teaching and academic life, and another for bumming around the house, exercising, and mucking around outside.

I also tend to hold onto things.  Long-standing and deep-seated fears about having enough and ideals about using things up means I tend to hold onto a lot and, in some cases, acquire a lot, especially from the thrift store (together, this can be a deadly combo.)  Combined with a hyper-awareness of the state of the economy, the threat of Peak Oil, and all manner of other cheery little topics makes me want to hold on to what I have, just in case.  And so there are snow boots, warm coats, wool blankets, a food dehydrator, food stores, oil lamps, and all manner of other sustainable living-type things for just-in-case.

But at this point, knowing that a move may be in my future strikes a bit of fear in my heart.  The thought of moving just the books alone is terrifying, let alone the wealth of stuff that also happens to be kicking around here.  Plus, I just plain old don’t like feeling surrounded and tied down by things.  And I do.  I very much do at times.

So, a project lies ahead.  A long, slow one, I’m thinking.  One where I slowly and steadily complement my reduced spending and shopping with the process of weeding out what I no longer want or need to keep in my life.

No two ways about it, this will be a tough one.  It’s been tough before, and it’ll be tough again.  There’s not much that I can’t justify keeping, but stuff needs to go, plain and simple.  Fewer clothes, fewer books, fewer dishes and pots, fewer random bits and pieces and whatever else is hiding away in the back corners of the apartment.

I’m thinking that come the start of November, when things really cool off and the craziness of October has, with any luck, abated a bit, I’ll be working to either get rid of a set number of things a day (5?  10?), or work my way through a small portion of the apartment (a shelf or drawer, maybe) and get rid of what I can.  Then, rinse and repeat.

The process has to be slow.  Getting all up in my stuff’s face, as it were, doesn’t tend to work well all at once, and does little more than leave me frustrated and with a messier place than when I started.  So, the ideal is bit by bit, hopefully daily, but at least weekly.  As for the overall goal, I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ve considered before, and am considering again, whether 25 percent of what I own would be too much of a stretch.  It would go a long way towards lightning the load and making me feel a lot better, but it might be frustrating or unrealistic to expect so much.

And so I think, and I plan, and for now I get back to the writing and editing that needs to be done while in the back of my mind I start plotting what can make its way out of my life and into someone else’s.

Written by Jenn

October 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm