Category Archives: Simplicity

On accepting my own limitations

Lately, I’d give anything for an extra 12 hours in the day. Between full-time work, daily blogging, my book project, exercise, household chores, and spending time with my husband, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Add to that our travel plans and moving preparations, and I’m completely overwhelmed.

Then there are the projects that I want to do that I just can’t fit into my schedule — the books on my to-read list, the unfinished quilts that have collected dust for 3 years, the piles and piles of clutter that need to be cleared before we pick up and move again, the movies I’ve yet to see, and my poor dog who isn’t walked nearly enough.

I wish I had a solution, but honestly, I don’t. I love that I have such a varied list of interests, and I love that my busy schedule keeps me from ever feeling bored. But I hate the way it feels to see the book on my nightstand, and the bookmark that serves as a painful reminder that I’ve yet to make a dent in it. I hate the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach when I look at my guest room, crammed full of stuff that I haven’t even touched months. I miss having the time to do my favorite relaxing projects that I love — quilting and reading and photography.

It seems that the only solution is to give some of it up, but I can’t choose. So I end up back at the same place — struggling to balance the things that I must do with the things that I love.

As kids, we’re told that we can do it all. As adults, we face the tough reality that it’s just not possible.

How do you find a balance?

Countdown to Europe and moving — Four months to go

The end of the holiday season was particularly bittersweet for me. We’re moving and taking a trans-Atlantic vacation in 120 days, and it’s finally time for me to start doing all the things I’ve been putting off until “after the holidays.” It’s so exciting, but overwhelming, too.

I’ve been breaking everything down month-by-month to make sure I get it all done. Here’s what’s on my plate for January.


Last month I set a date for our move and booked the movers and the truck. We’re renting a U-Haul and hiring a moving company to load up the truck. I don’t know if I’ve written about this before, but honestly, even though loading the truck ourselves would be more frugal, hiring people to do it is the best $150 I will ever spend. We’re on the third floor, and it’s just us. Knowing that two professionals will be here to lug our heavy possessions down three flights of wind-y stairs takes a huge load off my mind.

Just before the holidays I also informed my boss and co-workers that I’ll be leaving in May. My plan was to make an announcement in March, but the other employee in my department is pregnant and due in June. I felt like it was only fair to let everyone know well in advance so they could plan for both of us to leave around the same time.

We’re also continuing to declutter, but that’s not going as well as I’d hoped. :( I’m hoping the New Year will motivate me to really start getting rid of stuff so we can lighten our load.


For Christmas, Tony’s parents got me a couple of frugal vacation planning books for Paris and London. This month I plan to read through them and make a to-do list based on the tips I find valuable.

Since our flight and hotels are already booked, there isn’t much left to do beyond deciding what to see in the cities and getting our passports. This month we’ll be taking care of the passports to make sure we have plenty of time.

Everything is coming together nicely. Here’s hoping it’s smooth sailing from here to May.

Photo by tahir

Tech tools to help you stick to your resolutions

New Year’s Day is over, and now begins the slow decline in motivation for my New Year’s resolutions. It’s just so much easier to commit time and energy to self improvement when I’m on vacation. Once I get back to work and back to my to-do list, finding the time becomes a lot more difficult, and resolutions are the first thing to go.

Luckily, we live in the age of information technology. If you can make it work for you, technology can make sticking to your resolutions a lot easier. Here are my favorite tools for simplifying some of the most common resolutions.

Exercise more.

This year, my main resolution is to run a half marathon. But I’m not a runner. At all. And I’ve never really trained for a race. So I’m taking the age old advice of breaking my goal into smaller pieces to make it easier to attain.

My first step is training for a 5K in March, and I found a 5K training program called “Couch to 5K” that makes it incredibly easy. By using interval training and breaking it down week by week, this program builds up stamina without burning you out. It promises to prepare you for your first 5K in 9 weeks flat.

To make it even easier, I downloaded the Couch to 5K iPhone app. This is the first application for my smart phone that I’ve actually purchased (I usually only download the free ones), and it’s so worth it. The app tracks your progress and links a timer to your iTunes playlist so you can listen to music while keeping with the program. If you’re hoping to run more in the New Year, I absolutely recommend it.

Lose weight.

There are a ton of websites out there that make tracking diet and exercise a lot easier. Two of my favorites are FitDay and the Daily Plate. They’re both free, and they offer food diaries, fitness tracking, and a community for support. Simple calorie trackers make it easy to identify your diet downfalls, and fitness tracking helps you determine how many calories you’re burning with your daily exercise.

Read more.

I love my busy life, but I really miss having the time to read for leisure. Lately I’ve been using Shelfari to motivate me to keep up with my reading list. In the past, I would see tons of books that looked interesting, but I never had a place to keep a list. Shelfari’s visual bookshelf gives you a place to list what you’ve read, what you want to read, and find recommendations for new books from readers like you. You can see my last 10 reads in the widget on the right sidebar. The rating and reviews feature lets you keep track of your favorites. By making reading a fun challenge, this website may be the motivation you need to become well read.

Manage your money better.

If you’re not using to track your spending, this should be your first priority. Mint automatically syncs with your bank accounts and credit cards to give you a full picture of where your money is going. It also allows you to create budgets and automatically track spending based on categories. The free iPhone app lets you keep track of your spending on the go. When it comes to managing your money, this is 75% of the battle.

Get organized.

If you’re looking for a better way to manage your to-do list, try Remember the Milk or Evernote. Both of these free programs allow you to keep an electronic to-do list, sync it with your smart phone or home computer, and stay on top of what needs to get done.

What did I miss? How are you using technology to accomplish your goals?

Photo by dmachiavello

My New Year’s resolution for 2010 — focus on the positive

Every New Year, I’ve thought long and hard about how to improve myself, and I come up with resolutions that will make me a better person. I tell myself, “You didn’t work out enough this year,” or “You need to lose weight,” or “You need to do this and that to be better.” But you know what? This type of thinking doesn’t motivate me. It just leaves me feeling like I’ve failed in the past, and sets me up for failure and more negative thinking in the future.

This year, I’m spending the New Year looking ahead with excitement and reminding myself of my accomplishments. Instead of dwelling on what I could do better in the coming year, I’m reveling in the joy of all the great things I accomplished in 2009 and the rewards that will follow in 2010.

My New Year’s resolutions are positive reinforcements of my strengths instead of reminders of how I’ve failed. I’m training to run a half marathon to remind myself that I’m capable of anything I set my mind to, and I’m making a promise to myself to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses this year.

I want the coming year to be one of happiness and positivity. Here are some other reasons that I’m proud of us, and why I’m so excited for 2010.

  • We’re starting the year credit card debt free, and our emergency fund is complete.
  • We’re finally moving back home to the Midwest.
  • We’re going on our dream vacation to Europe in May.
  • I’m writing a book! (That’s all I can say about that, but I’ll have more details to come, I promise!)
  • My best friend and sister-in-law are both getting married in October.
  • I’m training to run a half marathon in November.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Are you focusing on your strengths or dwelling on your weaknesses?

Photo by maxblogbits

Christmas is over. It’s time to purge.

Now that the presents are opened, it’s likely that you’ve got a lot of new stuff — especially if you have kids. I’m ashamed to admit it, but our guest bedroom was already so full that we could barely open the closet after we tidied the room for visiting family on Thanksgiving. With the gifts we received from generous friends and family at Christmas, we can’t even clear a path.

And we’re moving. In four months. Yikes.

So I’m starting to take serious stock of our stuff and start digging our way out. If you’re struggling to find room for all your new toys and clothes and electronics, maybe it’s time for you to take stock, too.

Here are some tips to make it easier on you (and me):

Take inventory and ditch the excess.

Is your silverware drawer overflowing? Do you have so many t-shirts that you can’t even close your drawers? Weeding out the excess is a great place to start clearing clutter. Keep only what you can fit in your space, and only keep the best. Now is the time to throw away holey t-shirts and socks, tarnished silverware, and anything else you’re keeping around just because you haven’t had time to get rid of it. If you think someone else can use it, then be sure to donate it!

Be honest with yourself.

It’s likely that your bread machine works perfectly. After all, you’ve only used it twice, so it’s practically brand new. But it’s time to stop telling yourself you’re going to use it someday if it’s been collecting dust and taking up space in your kitchen for two years. The same goes for your skinny jeans. If keeping one pair motivates you, that’s fine, but if you have a second wardrobe in a smaller size, it’s time to donate. Get rid of the clothes you’re not wearing, the kitchen gadgets you’re not using, and the electronics you’ve never used.

Use it or lose it.

I’m guilty of hanging on to things I don’t need for sentimental reasons. I tend to take Peter Walsh’s advice when it comes to this: if you love it, find a way to use it. If it’s crammed into a box in a closet, you’re not giving the things most important to you the respect they deserve. Start going through your sentimental boxes and finding a way to give these things a new life. For instance, I’m turning my wedding dress into a baby quilt. If there’s no use for the item, and you’re only looking at it when it’s in your way as you clean out the storage closet, it’s time to make some tough decisions.

What are your rules for clearing clutter?

Photo by theob68

Last minute holiday gifts that won’t bust your budget

Christmas giftsWe’re coming into crunch time now, and if you’re anything like me, there are probably still a few people on your list for whom you need to buy gifts. I always find myself adding people at the last minute, which can be a real problem for my gift budget.

Here are some easy, frugal gift ideas for gifts for the last few people on your list.

Baked goods

Who doesn’t love to get cookies at Christmas time? It’s likely you’ll be doing some holiday baking anyway, so pick up some decorative plastic wrap and give away a dozen cookies wrapped with a bow.

Magazine subscriptions

Amazon has some amazing deals right now for 1-year magazine subscriptions. Many of them are even available for $10 or less. Choose something you know they’ll be interested in, and it shows that you’ve put thought into the gift. They won’t get the first issue until after the holidays are over, but there’s plenty of time to print up a card that says, “I got you a gift subscription!” They’ll know it’s on the way, and it’s no hassle for you.


Supermarkets usually offer great discounts on good wines right now, because they know people are entertaining. Pick up a nice bottle for under $15, stick a bow on it, and you’ve got a great gift for the wine connoisseur in your life.


I love to get a fun desk calendar for work or a wall calendar for my home office at the holidays. Find one with practical tips or a theme they’ll like, and they’ll think of you every day of the year.

A night out

When I was a teenager, I always gave my parents a “date night” for Christmas with two movie tickets and a gift certificate for their favorite restaurant. People who are strapped for time love this because it gives them an excuse to work time into their busy schedules for themselves. If your budget is too tight for a restaurant meal, consider a gift card for a coffee shop instead or a “movie night” gift basket with a movie rental, popcorn, and snacks.

If it’s a close friend or family member with kids, be sure to offer your babysitting services, too, so they can take advantage of your gift without having to worry about finding a sitter.

Share your last minute gift ideas by leaving a comment! We can use all the help we can get this time of year. :)

Photo by obd-design

Instant car air freshener for pennies

car freshenerWe’re one of those crazy couples that brings the dog with us everywhere. Consequently, our backseat is covered in dog hair and our car permanently smells like, well, a dog. Every time I have a reason to look in my backseat, I’m horrified by the dog hair, and I vow to vacuum it out soon. Of course, I never actually get around to doing it.

This weekend we picked up some dryer sheets for the first time in months. We left them in the car while we finished our grocery shopping. When we came back, the dog smell was gone and replaced with the fabulous scent of fresh laundry. So I threw a single sheet under the driver’s seat and voila! It’s a car air freshener that costs pennies.

I know, I know. This is one of the oldest tricks in the books. People have been using dryer sheets to freshen musty closets and drawers for decades. It just never occurred to me to throw one in the car. It’s so much cheaper than one of those hideous pine-scented things that hang from the rearview mirror, and in my opinion it smells nicer, too! It works for me! :)

Photo by breehoffman

Digital broadcast TV is impressive

tv antennaIt’s been a while since I’ve updated you on life without cable TV. It’s been absolutely fantastic. We’re more productive, happier, and more active without the constant draw of TV.

We still watch a handful for television shows, but they’re all available online the next day at the network’s website. This means we’re more purposeful about what we watch, and we don’t waste time flipping through channels searching for something to watch.

We’ve been so happy without TV that we dragged our feet about setting up the digital converter box for broadcast TV that Kacie at Sense to Save sent me (thanks, Kacie!). We’ve had it for a few weeks, but never got around to picking up an antenna and hooking it all up.

But this weekend my in-laws will be here for the holiday, and my father-in-law is a football fanatic. We wanted to make sure we had network channels set up so he could watch football on Thanksgiving day.

We picked up a standard antenna for about $12. And I have to tell you, I am impressed. From what I remember about antenna-based TV, it was always fuzzy with bad sound or poor picture quality. But this picture is clear as a bell. I doubt we’ll watch much live TV (we prefer to watch it on our own schedule), but for certain live broadcasts like the Oscars and guilty pleasures like American Idol (don’t judge!), I’m happy to have network TV back.

Right now is a better time than ever to ditch your cable. If you’ve never lived without it, just give it a test run. Unplug the TV for a week and see how you feel at the end of it. If you’re feeling healthier, happier, and better, it might be time to give life without cable a shot. And you can still get the news and network broadcasting with a great pictures practically for free.

Photo by swirlspice

Simplify your holiday season

pumpkin pieWith Thanksgiving only one week away, I can’t deny it anymore: the holiday season is upon us. And like every other year, I’m feeling a little unprepared. I know the holidays are coming. They happen every year at the same time. And yet, the holiday season always manages to sneak up on me somehow.

To help maintain my sanity, I’m pledging to keep things as simple as possible. Here are a few of the ways I plan to make that happen:

Take shortcuts.

Next Thursday, Tony and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. His parents and sister will be coming to stay with us for the long weekend, and we’re preparing the Thanksgiving meal.

At first, I was gearing up to go all out with homemade everything. Then I realized, we’re cooking and entertaining. I’m sure they’d rather we have time to visit than hide in the kitchen all day slaving over homemade pie crust. So we’re taking a few shortcuts here and there to make meal prep easier, and give us more time to visit.

Ship gifts directly.

We live 800 miles from family, and we won’t be making the trip home this year. To save time and money, we ordered most of our family’s gifts online. We’ll have them shipped directly to them with free shipping. My mom has agreed to wrap all the gifts for my nieces and nephews to save us money on gift wrapping (thanks Mom!). We may spring for the gift wrapping on my parents’ gifts, but either way, it’s much easier to shop online. Just click, ship, and you’re done. No long lines at the post office, expensive shipping, or packing up.

Plan ahead.

With so much going on, it’s tempting to procrastinate holiday shopping and preparation. But it’s so much easier to plan a little at a time to get things done. We made our Thanksgiving menu and shopping list last week and bought a few things at the grocery store last weekend. Now we’ve just got to get the rest of our ingredients, clean the house this weekend, and prepare for our guests.

I also split Christmas shopping over several months. I finished shopping for Tony’s family in October, this month I’ll buy gifts for my family, and in December Tony and I will shop for each other.

Slow down.

Instead of rushing around to get things done, remind yourself that things don’t have to be perfect. This Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m taking the time to enjoy our last winter in the South. I hope to be pregnant by this time next year (!!), which means this could also be our last holiday season as a family of two.

In 10 years, you’re unlikely to remember the little annoyances and mini catastrophes in your planning. What you’re remember is the time spent with family. So make sure you enjoy it.

How are you preparing for the holidays?

Photo by deiru