Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Y'all were right

I can't juggle the effort of trying to make my purchases line up with my "lottery" goals, the things I would do if I had unlimited resources, with the sheer difficulty of reducing my spending. I've been a spoiled brat for so long that I need to focus on controlling my spending and buying fewer things for a while. Once I get good at that, I can focus on making my expenditures line up with my dreams.

In my July spending update, take a peek at how $1700 trickled away in personal expenses last month. It's what I used to call The Lottery Project, which I'm now just calling My Spending Record. I may start recording my spending on a day-to-day basis to get a better handle on it, just a warning if you were thinking of subscribing.

And later this week, we'll take a look at what I have to swap out for two non-clothing objects I bought this month. Hope you all are well.


July Wrap-Up, or It Can't Get Any Worse Than This, Right?

I looked at my personal expenses this month using categories from EcoCatLady's blog: necessities, secondary necessities, investments, luxuries, and fantasy spending. I was supposed to be watching my spending more than last month ($1378). This month? A whopping $1750. Where did I go wrong? 

Cat was right -- the fantasy spending is what I'm most embarrassed about. But you know what? It's only $140. That's less than 10%. My real problem was my medical expenses. I spent $270 on eating disorder-related treatment this month and $615 on two pairs glasses. In my mind, that $615 was cheap. My eyes are pretty complicated and I've had the lenses alone cost $450 before. Two pairs of glasses and frames for $650? A steal. Without the glasses I spent around $1100. That's better than last month's $1378. 

When I look at the more standard categories it's still hard to see where I can pare back, other than on entertainment and clothing. Cutting out clothing purchases will save me a bundle since I spent over $500 on clothing last month and almost $200 this month. If I can pare down my entertainment costs a bit, that would be good too. But other than that? Good question. Help, please!


My clothes keep multiplying. I'm getting better at not acquiring so many items. But unfortunately changing this habit isn't as easy as poisoning some grain on a space station. Okay, I'll stop with the Star Trek allusions for now.

As I recap my spending this month I'm taking a closer look at how many objects I'm bringing into my home. Not only do these things take up space but they tend to be unnecessary purchases. This month I purchased five objects that weren't consumable. Two of the five were pieces of clothing:

A pair of bike shorts to replace the old ones that I finally admit don't fit. It's hard to tell ED that it's okay that I need bigger bike shorts. But this made it final. I'm okay with this decision.
A pair of track pants. I got these because they looked incredibly comfy and I wanted something that would give me an excuse to get out of my work clothes when I get home instead of keeping them on and doing things like, oh, baking. And messing up my clothes. And needing to spend a fortune on dry cleaning. I know this was a lousy reason to spend a ton on another pair of pants. Next month my goal is to not buy any more clothes.

To keep up with my Friday's Fashion Fallout, I'm getting rid of three items:

Two more pairs of cycling shorts
, replaced by the new bike shorts. These old bike shorts are multiplying like Tribbles. There will be more, I promise. I know there's at least one more pair in my dresser at my parents' place.  Their fate: The Goodwill store.

An old pair of scrubs that are stained in some unfortunate places. These can't be worn out of the house anymore. The track pants will replace them. Fate: rags.
Do you keep track of how many objects you purchase each month?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Have you purchased your iPride 3G yet? No?! You're a dinosaur.

Apropos of my previous post about trying to keep up in a gadget-crazy world, I thought some of you might enjoy this comic called "What It's Like to Own an Apple Product" from The Oatmeal:

See you tomorrow for Friday's Fashion Fallout!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Keeping up with the coworkers...or the world

from gizmowatch.com

Just a preface: I talk about my job and my supervisor in this post. And no, I don't say anything here that I wouldn't be okay saying to my boss's face. But I've disabled comments on this post to avoid any comments that could make my boss dislike me. Thanks! :o)

Our TV is over 20 years old. My digital piano is 21 years old. The hubs' laptop is six years old. One of my two is eight years old. Our desktop is a 2001vintage (though some of the components are more recent). We hang on to electronics for a long time. I only got a cell phone in 2004 and I got a dumb phone.

It makes me happy. I'm saving money, the environment, my soul...yeah, you know this already, you may very well do the same.

So what do I do when a supervisor at work comes up and points out that I'm the only one in the group who doesn't have a smartphone? And that they'd really like everyone in the group to have one since we design web pages for mobile devices and it's important that we know what it's like to  use the internet on one of these things? Oh, but the office won't pay for it. What do I do?

Oh, I want one. But I wait. 

A while later my coworkers walk in with fruit-flavored tablet computers the day after the things come out. Look, shiny! We'll be evaluating whether people use things things to view our website soon. So what do I do?

Oh, I really want one. But I wait. 

Christmas comes and the new Android tablets start to come out. People get them for themselves and bring them in to show and share. "Oh, Joanna, did you get one of these?" I'm asked. "No," I say. 

Oh, I really, really want one. But I wait. 

A while later I'm in a meeting with the same supervisor and some coworkers. We're going over a job candidate's interview and deciding if we like the person. The supervisor points good and not-so-good traits about the candidate. Did we think this person was an early adopter?, we're asked. It's important that we have experience with apps and electronic gadgets and even the latest fruit-flavored product if the websites we work on are going to be viewed on these gadgets, I hear. What do I do?

I go out and buy a laptop that has the computing power and programs to develop an app. I go out and buy a tablet computer (a cheap one, though). I go out and buy a fruit-flavored smartphone and a $70/month contract to go with it. When the next one comes out, I'll be openly all excited about it and will run out to get it. I'll show it off at work and proudly view our websites on it. 

And then I'll go home and chew over whether I made the right decision. I may be a librarian by training, but I do more web development and management now than anything else. It does matter that I know what it's like to use an app or to surf the web on a tablet, or on a phone. 

Can I keep up in my field without owning the newest thing every time it comes out? Or am I not tech-savvy simply because I can't bring myself to stay on the hamster wheel of gadget ownership? Could refusing to get the latest device just shoot my career in the foot? 

Can you be tech-savvy yet not have the latest gadget? Have you ever succumbed to consumerism for the sake of your job?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why I went to Spain with holes in my shoes

This is a story of broken hearts and broken bones. (okay, don't freak out too much.)

Junior year of college I studied abroad in Spain. I fell in love with the country's sensuous hills, its tempting food, its luscious parks, its endless sidewalks....and its shoes.

No, I wasn't completely devoured by a foot fetish on this trip. In fact, I followed a purchasing pattern I try to follow today on trips: literally wear out your clothes on the trip. Then buy clothing as souvenirs instead of junk.

Here's what I mean. When I went to Spain I brought a bit of good clothing, but I also packed a few items that were within an inch of their life: a shirt that had a few permanent spots so I couldn't get away wearing it around company I knew anymore. A pair of shoes that was starting to rip at the seams and couldn't be repaired by the cobbler. Et cetera. These clothes had a bit of life left in them, but not much.

Of course I brought clothes that were in fine shape as well, because who wants to be traveling in a foreign country while everything you're wearing is falling apart? But I think about 1/4 of what I brought for those four months was on its last legs.

Then, when I wanted to get souvenirs, I bought clothes and shoes instead. When the shirt finally got to be too embarassing even to wear around strangers, I got rid of it and bought a blouse that was in fashion in Madrid at the time. When the holey shoes wore out, I bought espadrilles, a quintessentially Spanish shoe. I came back to the States with the same amount of clothing I left with (okay, okay, I did buy a couple extra items.) But it kept the overall tally of souvenirs down. I loved the items I purchased more than I would have if I'd bought them in the States, simply because they weren't just replacement clothes, they were souvenirs.

There's only one problem with this. These souvenirs wear out.

Today's Friday's Fashion Fallout is a pair of espadrilles I bought at the end of my stay in Madrid.

I remember touring a neighborhood I'd never visited before, eyeing these and falling in love. My Spanish host family told me how to take care of them (clean the rope part with salt, make sure you reinforce the place where the laces go through the heel), and it was just a great purchase. And then I stopped liking how they looked on my feet. I couldn't keep them clean. The sole kept falling off no matter how much I glued it back down. My feet shrunk. Then I broke a bone in my foot. (Wondered when we were going to get to that part, didn't you?) High heels aren't in my repertoire much these days. 

So it really hurts emotionally to let these go, but that's what photographs are for. Like, the 1000 or so photographs I have of the trip. I don't need these to remember it by.

How do you avoid souvenirs on trips?

 The Reckoning

Item 135: souvenir espadrilles. I never liked them that much and probably shouldn't have bought them in the first place. 

Cost: 14 euro (about $25)

Fate: the clothing donation box

Total money wasted on stuff: $1522.00

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dumb lessons learned: if the label says you can't clean it, maybe you shouldn't buy it!

At 24 I headed out to the affordable JC Penney store with my parents to buy my first real bed before I left for DC. My mom had given me a rock-hard, twin size bed as a child and I was never offered any other choice. So when my then-boyfriend-now-husband spent a fortune on his queen-size, overstuffed, super soft, $1500 mattress, I had stars in my eyes (about the boy *and* the mattress.) I *had* to have one.

Instead of realizing that I slept great on a rock-hard bed, I bought myself a smaller version of what the boy had. And then the back problems began. So I exchanged the bed for something slightly firmer, but still soft. Dammit, I was not going to let my mom win this one. She wanted me to have a hard bed. Therefore I wasn't going to get one.

Exchanging a bed is a *pain.* I wasn't going to buy a new bed in spite of sleeping terribly for over a year, so I consoled myself with an ergonomic pillow. A $60 pillow. A pillow that made promises about giving side-sleepers like me the best sleep we've had in ages. A pillow that promised to give me more productive days because of better nights. A pillow that says:

Do not wash.
Do not bleach.
Do not tumble dry.
Do not iron.
Do not dryclean.

Do not clean. 

(Okay, I was just kidding about the last line. The last line really is 'Wipe clean with a damp cloth.') So after I've drooled all over my pillow in the blissful sleep they swear I'll have with this thing, I'm supposed to wipe it clean with a damp cloth? 

Oh, and to add to the stupidity, this turned out to be the most uncomfortable pillow I've ever used in addition to being the most disgusting. 

Hey, at least it squeezed into the trash chute with no problems. Saved me having to call in the local hazmat team to dispose of it.

Now, I've gone back to sleeping on a piece of sheet rock. My husband sleeps on a cloud. We bought a  $2000 sleep number bed and I am *finally* waking up rested for the first time in years (after I stopped crying myself to sleep because of the dent in our wallet). No fancy pillow needed.

And the best part? You can wash *every single* cloth part of a sleep number bed. Every single one. 

Have you ever bought something you discovered you couldn't clean?

The Reckoning

Item: one unwashable ergonomic pillow
Cost: $60
Fate: the trash chute
Total money wasted on junk so far: $1497.00. 
That's almost enough to pay for that sleep number bed. *sob*

Monday, July 16, 2012

(last) Friday's Fashion Fallout: oh, but they feel so good!

Okay, just the fabric feels good.

Sorry for the delay folks, work has gone crazy this week *and* the hubs is out of town so I'm stuck doing my own dishes <whine>. Free time is not as abundant as it was.

Last Friday morning I realized that a piece of clothing can feel good...while feeling absolutely awful at the same time. Here's the little conversation I had with my jeans at 6:30 AM last Friday:

Jeans: ooh, it's Friday. Wear me, wear me!
Me: Okay, I think you're too short...
ED: You're too fat for them...
Me: Oh hell, let me just try them on.
(puts jeans on and successfully buttons them with minimal agony)
Me: See? The fabric feels great.
ED: They make you look fat.
Me: ED, fat is not a feeling.
Jeans: Keep us! Keep us! Feed me, Seymour!
Me: I have to go to work...no time to talk to inanimate objects!
Jeans: Before you go...did you realize we display your beautiful ankles when you walk so everyone can see them? And your belly button too? And make you look like you took up a side job in plumbing when you bend down?
Me: uh.....okay, these don't feel so good after all. I think I've found my weekly item to discard.

Lesson learned: there are lots of things that we judge a piece of clothing on when we play the keep/toss game. If it doesn't pass every test (fabric, fit, length, height, tightness, whether it talks to you....) then it probably needs to go. The space in the closet is worth it.

I'm now down to my goal number of jeans: just three! One junky pair for painting/camping/etc, one really good pair for work and a spare for when the others are in the wash. 

Item 133: Jeans that never really felt good. Money wasted: $25.

Total money wasted on stuff this year: $1437.00.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making it count

The hubs and I went over our expenses yesterday. We've been married since October 2010 and still haven't quite figured out how to make combining our finances work well for us.

The biggest problem is that I'm a spender. When I'm stressed I spend or indulge my eating disorder. As the eating disorder gets better, the spending and acquiring seems to get a little worse.

I want less junk and more experiences in my life. We both want a bigger financial cushion. I've always lived within my means but it's time to start to keep an eye on the money leaving my wallet as well as the junk coming and going from the house.

This blog's conjoined twin, The Lottery Project (because everything has to be a project, doesn't it?), is now my open diary of my spending. It's my attempt to make progress doing more of the things on my list of what I would do if I won the lottery, AKA, the things that would make me happy in life. If I'm going to spend money I should be spending it on the experiences I want to have, not on silly junk and e-books I'll only read once. I'll likely update that blog only a few times a month. This blog is still my focus; that one is mostly my ledger. But I think the accountability of posting my expenditures online will whip me into shape. I hope!

Item 132: I am such a couch couscous! okay, nobody remembers that commercial.
While I'm talking about wasting less, let's throw in today's decluttered item.We went through the cabinets a while back to find anything that had been sitting around too long. We ate through everything else and this was the only thing we didn't want. It may be July but it's easy to forget that food pantries need goods year-round and now is the perfect time to clear out your cabinets (when is it not a perfect time to clean out our cabinets?) This box was a 'gift' from a friend. I put it in the Summer food donation campaign box at our office.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New anti-shopping rule: try to avoid stores when you feel lousy (or just got any injections)

Have you ever found yourself feeling truly awful and also found yourself in a store at the same time? What happened?

For me, nothing good was what happened. About two years ago I had hiked up to Baltimore from DC for a doctor's appointment. I took two trains, a taxi, and a walk in the rain to get to the office of an orthopedic surgeon who was an expert in an "unusual" shoulder problem I'd been diagnosed with a while earlier.

In the ten minute visit I got told there wasn't much they could do except stick a really, *really* long, really large needle in my shoulder and squirt in some cortisone. I would feel fantastic afterwards!

Sure. The "afterwards" is really, you know, the next day. In the meantime your arm is pretty much useless.

I naturally brought a ton of stuff with me on this five hour round-trip adventure and suddenly found that I couldn't really carry it anymore. I stopped in Macy's to purchase a small rolling bag to help me haul my belongings home.

I left with a $150 Tommy Hilfiger, top-of-the-line roller bag. Because I felt lousy.

Sure, it got my stuff home (why didn't I just bring less stuff?!). But a few weeks later I realized I had a bag that was actually much smaller than was useful and was seriously ugly. Oh, and I already owned a comparable bag.

Lesson learned: avoid stores when feeling lousy. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, it's all the same in this situation. When we feel lousy we're more likely to look for the first thing that will make us comfortable, and then our wallets and closets become the victims. Totally not worth it.  Has this ever happened to you?

The Reckoning

Item 131: One seriously ugly roller bag
Cost: $150
Fate: the thrift shop 
Total money wasted on junk: $1412.00

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday's Fashion Fallout

Just a quick post between the wonderful power outages we've been having in DC. This shirt was an old standby of mine, kept at home while I was doing my fellowship in DC and then Tennessee. When I actually ironed it (ha!) it was what I usually ended up wearing when I visited Gram when I went home each month. But I'm not a size four anymore and don't expect to be ever again so it's time for this shirt to go.

But because I wore it to visit Gram, this OF COURSE means I can't bear to completely get rid of it! Lessee....how can I repurpose this one? Well, I'm short on spare fabric for my quilting projects right now so this is getting chopped up into quilt fabric.

I repurposed last week's item into rags, this week's item into a quilt. What else have you repuprosed clothes into? I have a feeling I can't keep turning everything into rags or quilts, or I'll end up hoarding those :o)
Item 130: A well-loved shirt, worth the money.  A casualty of my eating disorder that hopefully will have a better second life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

If they point their fingers at each other anymore, they'll jab each others' eyes out.

It's amazing how much insanity you can pack into a single day.

I spent exactly 22 hours at home for the 4th of July. And while some of this was spent watching my sister fire a cannon four times (no kidding!), most of the fireworks were in the house.

My mother did her usual pre-visit cleanup. While the room did feature a path from the door to the closet, bed, and dresser, it was sad to realize that nothing had actually been removed from the house, just stuffed/hidden/shoved/disguised elsewhere. I gave a tour of the room in its usual state if you need a point of reference.

yup, that umade bed is my fault!

hey, I can get to the window this time!

oh, the horrors.

Enough had been removed that I could identify things of mine that I didn't know were in the pile, like three boxes of centerpieces from our wedding. I unearthed these now only 20 months after our wedding. As the day progressed I managed to snag each one of my parents individually to ask some questions about how I was going to deal with my stuff. Here's how the conversations went.

Totally irrational conversation with Mom

Me: Mom, it's going to be a real pain to take 20 hurricane vases from the wedding down to Maryland only to drive 10 miles to a thrift shop to donate them. Could you take them to the thrift shop next to your office next time you're up there?

Mom: I'll take them when I take the two recliners of Gram's to the thrift shop.

Me: Mom, those recliners have been there since before Gram died, three years ago. Are you really going to take these things to the thrift shop?

Mom: I will. 

Me: (picks up a ceramic candy dish that I asked her to take to the thrift shop at Christmas) What about this? You said you were going to take this dish from my room to the thrift shop but I just found it hidden behind the cereal on the kitchen counter. 

Mom: But it belonged to Gram.

Me: We have lots of other things of Gram's. You didn't even know we had it until I found it in my room.

Mom: I just haven't taken it because I don't have time. 

My mom is a tax preparer and has the Summer and Fall off. The thrift shop is a mile from her house. How does she not have time?

So my next thought is to put them in the recycling. My father has the habit of "editing" my trash, so I went to talk to him about this.

Totally irrational conversation with Dad

Me: Dad, I need to get rid of the vases we used for the wedding. I'm going to put them in the recycling. Please leave them there. I don't need them any more. I would appreciate it if you would respect my decision to throw items I've purchased in the trash. 

Dad: But I do leave your things in the trash. I only take them out when they could be useful. 


 By this point my father had turned his back on me was was ignoring me in favor of the computer.

The finger pointing begins

Me: Dad, I know you both have been seeing a psychologist. I think you should consider discussing the clutter issues with the therapist. 

Dad:  I know your mother needs to. She has some very serious control issues. I'm starting to think she has a bit of a hoarder in her. I found catalogs from 2004 in the basement!

(Do I cheer at the fact that he thinks she's a hoarder? Or start to panic because now he's got a label he'll use against her? And he will.)

Me: I mean you too, Dad.

Dad: 90% of this mess is your mother's.

Me: Dad, mom and I had to throw out 15 packages of ten-year-old vitamins and decongestants this morning when I went looking for some sudafed. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Mom doesn't do the shopping for that stuff, you do. And your garage--it has so much stuff in it it's unusable. 

(Ironically my mom was the one who threw out the 15 packages of sudafed after I found them. She seemed positively giddy, like she'd caught my father in some trap). 

Dad: I know I need to talk to your mother about her mess. And we were using the vitamins back then.

(and then I was stupid and got preachy)

Me: Dad, this clutter problem isn't going to get solved unless you both stop pointing fingers at each other. You each need to take responsibility for this.

And then mom walked in. The conversation was over. No progress.

Finding the centerpieces just gave my parents more ammunition. Unfortunately every piece of my clutter we unearth prompts a "See? The fact that this house is a mess isn't my fault!" response from each of my parents. Yes, I know there are a number of things still left that are my responsibility. The difference between them and me is that I will do something about my stuff. If they'll let me.

Ultimately all hope was lost; the hubs and I packed up the car with the vases knowing that we'd find them back in my room if we moved them to anywhere else on the property. It's a small car so there wasn't much room for anything else, which made it even harder to move anything else out. That gave my mother ammunition to use her favorite line: "But this junk isn't all ours, you're almost 30 and you still have so much stuff here!"

By this point all I could do was take my $10,000 worth of psychoanalyzed brains and leave. To hell with empathy for them. No amount of blogging or playing my guitar was going to calm me down. And then the Awful Realization hit me.

My parents aren't going to get help. Ever.

Why do I care so much? Why does it matter to me that the house is a mess?


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hoarding family portrait: Mom

The fourth of July looms here in the states, and that means I have to make an obligatory trip home  for my sister's birthday and my mother-in-law's birthday. It also means that I have to stay at my parents' house again. And no, staying at my MIL's place isn't an option. She has a dog and I'm incredibly allergic to them. It's my folks' place or a hotel. 

In an earlier post I talked about my strategies for going home to a hoarder's house. I think the one strategy that I didn't mention in that list is empathy. 

Hoarding really isn't about the stuff. It's about the hoarder's inability to cope with events in their life. Understanding why a loved one hoards can go a long way when it comes to coping with their hoarding. Let's take a look at what I think are the reasons behind my mom's hoarding. 

Family tragedy and grief
My mom was the oldest of four kids and the only girl. Her next-youngest brother was killed in a grisly accident when he was 23 and she was 27. Maybe she hoards because stuff doesn't disappear the way people we love do? 

General anethesia
After Gram died, my eating disorder spun completely out of control after Gram died because restricting and bingeing were how I numbed myself. My mom's hoarding got worse at that time. Was hoarding her anesthetic?

Talking to my uncle a while back, I learned that he doesn't think grief or trauma started my mom's hoarding, but he does think it's become a coping mechanism. He said that she didn't start hoarding after their brother died; she had already started hanging onto objects by then. It may play a role, but it's not the cause. 

In an earlier post I mentioned my father's mental health problems, his emotional detachment, and his frightening anger management issues. She wasn't getting the love she needed from him. Has she kept stuff because the stuff will always be there, and it can't hurt her the way he has?

Or is the stuff making up for material deprivation? While no one can say that my mother didn't have everything she needed growing up, there were many things that she wanted that she didn't have. When she needed a dress for school, she didn't get the one she wanted, she would get the one that Gram could find for the least amount of money. When she needed new stockings, my grandfather responded that she needed to stop wearing through them so quickly (like any girl can keep her stockings from getting runs in them). 

She got what she was handed. Now that she has more resources, is she compensating for what she didn't have growing up?

Hand-me-down hoarding 
My great-grandmother lived in Germany between the World War I and II. She suffered pretty much every kind of privation there is during that time. As a result of not having money, food, or material goods, she developed an eating disorder (either bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or bulimarexia, we're not sure which). She became a compulsive saver.  And according to my uncle,  my mom adored her. 

Did my mom learn her hoarding from her grandmother? Did it get passed down genetically? 

Where empathy ends

I can never be sure exactly what causes my mom's hoarding, but it seems as though she doesn't have the skills she needs to cope with the events of her life and instead has used hoarding as her coping mechanism. I know how badly I needed my eating disorder to cope with the issues I've had in my own life when I had no other alternative.

So I've finally come to the conclusion that no amount of cleaning, organizing, or cajoling will free my mom of the hoard.  Until she can find another coping mechanism the hoard will remain, and will get larger. 

Question is, how large will it get?