Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A different kind of disaster zone

That would be my finances. Click the image to enlarge.

Just a warning, this post is filled with a ton of angst. I am a spoiled, wealthy brat who realizes how much she has but is foolish with it. And I feel very ashamed, and really don't know how to change my ways. 

I let go this month. Our take-home pay decreased substantially because I contributed twice my usual to my pension thingy at work this month. In total, we only added $216 to our checking account and $415 to our emergency fund. Still -- only adding $600 in liquid savings feels really bad. 

1. ED treatment got more expensive this month. My therapist just moved to California so I've been going to a bunch of trial appointments with what feels like every therapist in town. Eventually I'll find someone I like who takes my insurance but until then I have to pay for the full cost of the visits.
2.We ate out at a pricey place. First mistake: going to the hottest restaurant in the DC area for our wedding anniversary. Second mistake: trusting that they wouldn't try to kill us at dinner. If you have food allergies, Volt in Frederick is not a great place to go!
3. I didn't restrain myself when it came to entertainment. It's that simple.
4. I bought more Christmas presents. I felt it was better to split the present purchasing over three months. I only have about $60 worth of planned gifts to get yet, for a total of approximately $400 for the whole family, for $50 apiece. The remaining gifts complete the "baskets of local goodies" I've been planning to make. But next year I need to focus on more homemade gifts and also to set a budget.

Really, #2 and #3 are the biggest problems. I just have to restrain myself. I've got no choice if I don't want to find myself having to pay bills out of our savings.

It really gets worse.

The spoiled brat continues her spending, because this week she's taking another vacation to another ritzy destination. My MIL goes to the Caribbean and begged us to go with her. She offered to pay for food and for the hotel. We thought, 'what a deal!' Yeah, right. Airfare alone was $750/pp.

What's really going on here is that my FIL died a number of years ago and my inlaws used to go there every year. So there will be lots of things that will be done just for the endorphins. She already has plans to take me jewelry shopping (real jewelry shopping..."it's half what it is in the states!" she exclaimed). If I say I'd rather not spend money she will then offer to buy me something or will bring me back something I can't stand. And that is very dangerous. She tried to buy her say in our wedding, and I HATE it when she pays for things, because I feel like she's using money to gain some kind of invisible control over me. I feel like I'm in her debt. I feel that way about the whole vacation.

My husband is talking about snorkeling and renting boats and eating out...I just paid the pet parents are coming over when I get back and they'll want to eat out a lot...and I'm overwhelmed.

My husband doesn't have a spending problem, I do. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle any of this. I used to never eat out and that was how I afforded all of the stupid things I would buy. But now I don't want to cut into his fun because he prefers to eat out and enjoy vacations and I can't control my spending on the little stuff.

Like the eating disorder, angsting over it makes it worse. Perhaps it's best to just talk with the guy I married and set a reasonable limit on how much to spend at the jewelry store, and to be okay with it. I have $250 in contract work coming to me this month. Perhaps that's a reasonable amount to spend.

And on top of it all, I know so many people who make so much less than I do, and yet I'm so careless with it.

The great handkerchief debate

The Frankenstorm came and went. DC has returned to normal. The sun is shining...aaaaaannd I'm at home with a runny nose and a fever.

I don't know about you all, but between November and April I average about one cold a month. The rest of the year I do a good impression of Snow White's dwarf Sneezy. I'm just allergic to everything.
I go through a LOT of tissues in a year.

Or at least, I used to. I made the great handkerchief switch about a year ago right after I bought a 12-pack of kleenex boxes at our Costco warehouse club. There were three problems with this in my mind. I think the 12 boxes cost about $25. I could easily spend over $50 on Kleenex in a year. Not to mention the waste! Oh, and tissues take up a huge amount of space. I have, er, fond memories of going into the linen closet as a kid and having my father's stash of 24 kleenex boxes topple onto me. No thank you. I desperately want to stop stockpiling.

But alas, I'm also a medical librarian. I understand the germ theory of disease, though obviously not well enough to keep from getting sick six times a year! I've worked in hospitals. Handkerchiefs seemed like a really, really bad idea when it came to hygiene.

I looked at when I tend to use the most tissues. Easy -- when I'm home sick I can go through a box in a day.  I now use handkerchiefs when I am sick and quarantined at home. The husband doesn't mind because he never seems to get sick! When I go out in public I use tissues instead.

And what do you know? That stack of 12 tissue boxes has lasted a long time.  Now I use six boxes a year instead of 24 and I figure I save around $35.

I keep my handkerchiefs in a pencil case I got at Harrod's which you can see in the picture. It's one of my few souvenirs of a college trip to London. I'm glad it now serves a purpose and I don't have to declutter it. The pouch takes up less space in the cabinet than a single box. In the future I hope to only keep a couple spare tissue boxes on hand.

Now that I've grossed you all out...what do you think about handkerchiefs? Do you use them? What works for you? Or was there a product that you used to stockpile but now you have something reusable instead? What is it?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

safe and sound

We got very lucky and survived the storm intact -- and with power! I suppose we can be thankful for the derecho (land hurricane) we had over the summer that wiped out our power for almost four days. The derecho took down most of the trees and branches that were going to fall. As a result, this time there wasn't much blowing around to knock down power lines. Newspaper boxes,on the other hand....
And those pictures of the retaining pond near us that I posted yesterday? We walked by it and it's less full than it was yesterday! We really got lucky. My friends in New York are looking at weeks of clean-up and days without power. You're all in my thoughts. 
The plants are still indoors because we're not quite sure that the wind has calmed down completely. But at least I won't have to dress up like this again to go outside tomorrow! 
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers over the last few days!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weather report

So far, so good. Still safe and sound, but given that I took these pics at only 11 this morning, I'm afraid we'll have to see what the overnight brings. At least we're off tomorrow so I won't have to swim into work! More time for decluttering, squee!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pre-Frankenstorm hoarding or preparing?

courtesy of The Washington Post
If you live within about 1000 miles of Manhattan then you've heard about the Frankenstorm (I did not make this up!) that's about to clobber those of us who live on the east coast of the US. It's actually a hurricane that combined with two other large land-based storms. Where we live now we are virtually guaranteed to lose power to and lose it for a number of days as this happens following even small thunderstorms. So how do we prepare? Well, we could go overboard, as so many people are right now:
Keeping too much stuff is a danger in and of itself in a disaster. I can't image what my mom would do if the basement (in my blog's banner!) got flooded!

We try to be rational about it. We like a 72-hour disaster kit as and the Red Cross recommend. It looks like this. Not unreasonable in size. If we need more than 72 hours worth of stuff then we need to leave the area. That's what the full tank of gas and/or the hiking boots and camping gear in the basement are for. Either that, or we head a few blocks over to where I work, which quite literally was built to withstand an attack by a small nuclear missile. It also has a generator and ample bottled water.
An intelligently-sized example of a disaster kit, from
Our kit is in an old toolbox that my mom gave me as my medicine chest in college. No, I am not sick enough to need a chest that's the size of a 20 gallon fish tank thought she seemed to think so. I almost decluttered it but it works great as a box to store our foul weather supplies. The kit includes stuff I cobbled together from around the house, many things that I originally wanted to declutter like candles leftover from our wedding and a little tube of small first-aid items that I got at work.
Water, candles, a tarp, batteries, a hand-crank radio and flashlight, glow stick, dust mask, sanitary wipes, swiss army knife, whistle. We keep canned food in our kitchen, a manual can opener, first aid supplies in our bedroom, and sanitation supplies in the bathroom.
But the most awesome thing we found for these long power outages?
 $5 home depot LED head lamps!
These were affordable, they last a long time, run on standard AAA batteries, and most importantly, they keep your hands free while you're trying to do things in a blackout. They're an essential part of our Frankenstorm preparedness kit.

Even the gerbils are getting ready. Raisin spent all day building this elaborate paper-bag-and-boxed-meal house with help from Rye. Raisin knows there's something coming. I've never seen a gerbil haul something three times his size all the way across the cage before! Smart little guys.
A loaf of bread is baking in our breadmaker, the fridge is full of ice and our 96-hour cooler is ready to take over for the fridge and freezer. The cellphones are charged, the kindle is loaded up with books, and the radio batteries are fresh. And we're both off work tomorrow!  Stay safe and un-hoarded this Frankenstorm!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The agony of de-feet

Remember in an earlier post how I said that I would love to go to nursing school for the fun of it if I ever had the spare time, energy, and cash? Well, today I have to wonder how much I really want to learn about nursing.

I gave away the anatomy and physiology textbook I bought for a class I audited after grad school. I was too pressed for time to finish the class. I told myself that I would learn the anatomy myself by reviewing a bit every day.

Four years later, that's never happened. I've cracked the book maybe twice. It was time to get rid of it.

*Gasp*! I'm letting go of my dream!  said my subconscious.

No, I'm not.

Just because we let go of objects doesn't mean we let go of memories, of the people who owned the objects, of the goals and dreams we associate with those objects. Practically anything can be replaced.

And for heavens sake, my office sits on top of one of the largest collection of medical books in the world! No, seriously--the largest collection. Somehow I think I won't have too much trouble finding another anatomy book if I want one. And probably one that's a bit newer, too. Remember, folks, you don't need to keep books. This is what your local library is for!

The Reckoning!

What: Item 145, my A & P textbook
Cost: $100. I should have borrowed it from a library in the first place instead of buying it. Or I should've sold it on as soon as I was done with it.
Fate: Freecycle. The guy who picked it up seemed to really enjoy it.
Total $ spent on stupid stuff: $1654.00

Thursday, October 25, 2012

urge to splurge

Have you figured out why you shop? I shop when I'm feeling great, to heighten the awesomeness I'm feeling. I shop when I'm feeling sad, to cheer myself up. Today, I felt fat. Fat apparently isn't a feeling, or so my therapist says. Translation? I felt incompetent. I felt ugly. I wasn't willing to let myself binge to make myself feel better (go me!) but all day I had a building desire to go to Ann Taylor. I needed to go. I was going to go crazy if I didn't.

On Thursday nights I take a class downtown. (In)conveniently, Union Station happens to be a fine place for me to hop off the train and walk to class. But this is America, so it's not just a train station...
It's also a mall. 

 With laser-beam focus I hustle my way up to the Ann Taylor on the second floor, with visions of 4" heels floating in my head....
Wait, WHAT?!? Closed?
 *Gasp.* Panic. How can Ann Taylor <3 DC if it's under renovation? How dare they!

My plan was foiled. But the desire to acquire is still strong with this one. So I turned around and sulked my way down the hallway. Until I found this.

No, it's not a dentist's office in a mall, though I've heard they do that. It was eyebrow threading. I have big, dark eyebrows that would make Sesame Street's Bert jealous. I hadn't had mine done in ages and these were only $12. I had been trying to save money by not getting my eyebrows done but I think I was just making myself feel worse about my personal care. But this was half the price of what I usually pay. *This* was something that would make me feel better!

Ten minutes later I felt much better, much more put-together and presentable. And my desperate need to go buy something? Well, the desire was still there. But it wasn't screaming at me anymore. I headed outside and enjoyed a relaxing walk across the National Mall to class.

Just another walk to night school. I love this town.
I feel like I won in every way possible. I gave ED a kick in the rear end, I don't have a $100 charge for shoes on my credit card, and I don't have yet another pair of shoes I don't need cluttering up my closet. Hoarding habits AND ED beaten with just a $12 eyebrow job. Taking care of myself has so many rewards.

My mom always put my sister and me first. Always. And while that sounds like a good thing, I realize now how bad it was because it meant that she never took care of herself. You can fight hoarding with meds. You can fight hoarding with therapy. Or you can fight hoarding by taking care of yourself.

Please take care of yourself, mom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lunch hour decluttering

Oh, the things I find in my desk drawer. It was free. The itching sensation that comes with it was the real makeup bonus gift.

Item 144, old and itchy eyeshadow.

What did you declutter on your lunch hour?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

frugal gifts for the hoarders in your life

Yesterday's freezer review got me thinking about holiday gifts. The last thing I want to give my family is more stuff. Food that they will actually eat and experiences are really the best gifts for the hoarders in my life, I've found. They're not bad for other people too. Most adults I've met are getting sick of stuff at the holidays. Remember these from yesterday?
five quarts of local peaches....
Lots of frozen peaches + a need for holiday presents = jam making time! Jam making is an easy hobby that makes something tasty for you and something frugal but luxurious to give away. You can get precise instructions at the USDA's home canning website. Best to follow their instructions, mind you, not mine. Much as I love a good science experiment, I don't want anyone accidentally getting botulism. Or suing me. But in case you're curious, here's how I made peach jam.

I took the peaches, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 9 cups of sugar, and 14 tablespoons of pectin. I don't show the pectin here but you can get it at most any grocer.

I then took inspiration from one of Brian's comments on my blog about the immersion blender being his favorite kitchen implement. I got out mine and beat the peach/lemon/sugar/pectin mixture into submission. Mwahahaha! Then I brought it up to a rolling boil. It has to be hot enough that you can still see the big bubbles on the surface even when you stir it. See them? That helps it become thick enough to actually be jam. I've forgotten this step and ended up with peach sauce in the past. Tasty, but not quite what most people want for the holidays.

Next I filled the jars by ladling the peach-flavored culinary napalm into them. A funnel is important because you really, really don't want to get this hot stuff on your fingers. Put the lids on the jars and put them into a pot filled with hot water and your canner basket. You can also use the jar grabber contraption in the picture to help you arrange your jars. You'll need one or the other to get your jars in and out of the hot water without hurting yourself. Cover the jars with water, cover the pot, and bring it up to a rolling boil. Start a timer for 10 minutes.
Then go say hi to the gerbils

After the ten minutes are up, take the jars out and let them rest for 24 hours on cooling racks. Afterwards you'll need to tap the lids to make sure that they don't "pop" up and down. If they do, they're not safe to store at room temperature. You can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks though.

These ended up being a pretty frugal gift. Tie a pretty ribbon around it, make a loaf of bread, and voila! Instant holiday gift.

Expenses for 12 eight-ounce jars came out to $2.25 per jar:
$15 for the jars
$10 for the peaches
$2 for the sugar (I think?)
Help from the husband: priceless
Thank heavens! The peaches are out of the freezer *and* I have some gifts ready to go. 
And I didn't have to spend any extra money!

Have you tried canning?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frozen archaeology: a hoarder's freezer

Everyone wants to reduce the amount that they spend on food. We spent over $400 on groceries last month and I feel like there's some room (pun intended) for us to lower that number a bit. But we already buy very little processed food. We shop the edge of the store, buy house-brand everything, and shop at the cheapest store in town. We buy in bulk. The freezer is full. So what are we doing wrong?

Maybe what we're doing wrong is being too much like my hoarder family. In the name of food allergies, finicky palates and frugality, their freezers (plural!) look like this:

click to enlarge the horror!
There is stuff in those freezers that has been there for YEARS. My parents never clean out the freezers and never defrost them. It may be frozen, but is it still edible? Is it even still safe?

But my life shouldn't be about them, it should be about me. Only last month did I start to look at my freezer with an eye for hoarding habits. Sure enough, I felt a need for the freezer to be FULL:

Why do I think I need to have a full freezer?

1. My frugal brain tells me it's cheaper to buy stuff on sale. But for me that's a myth because stuff gets freezer burn and spoils in my freezer typically before I dig deep enough to remember that it's there. When it's so full that I can't see what's in there, I end up buying extra because I think I'm out of something.

2. My starved eating disorder brain worries about not having the right food around when I want it. Just because it's not in my freezer doesn't mean I'm going to starve or be painfully deprived. I can always go out and get what I want.

3. My first world brain wants choices. Maybe today I'll want raisin bread and tomorrow I'll want wheat, and Monday I'll want white. But why should I worry about keeping a smorgasbord in my freezer when I live a few blocks from a grocery store?

4. My eco-friendly brain says that it's more energy efficient to keep a full freezer than an empty one. That only works if I don't end up throwing out spoiled food.

These beliefs are all myths for me. Maybe they're truths for you and that's okay, but for me they spell out one thing. It's time to use up what's in the freezer and not completely fill it up again! My freezer today:
better than last month! sorta
My sister-in-law keeps a list of the freezer's contents on the door. I'm not sure I'm diligent enough to keep up with the list. But making it this once might give me a better idea of what I have, and what I can use in our meals this week.

1.   6 qts frozen peaches (will go into jam tomorrow)
2.   1 pre-made lasagna (can keep this at work for emergencies)
3.   1 qt frozen grapes
4.   1 container fudge
5.   1 bag of coffee
6.   4 pounds of butter
7.   1 pt raspberries
8.   2 slices pizza
9.   frozen banana slices
10.  bag of green beans
11.  bag of carrots
12.  bag of stir fry veggies
13.  bag of mixed veggies
14.  bag of blueberries
15.  1 pound sliced cheese (freezer-burned, tossed out)
16.  ginger root
17.  parsley
18.  bag of pre-made raviolis
19.  oatmeal cookies
20.  25 cadbury eggs (they're seasonal!)
21.  a tray of yogurt starter
22.  flank steak
23.  hot dogs
24.  2 pork loins
25.  5 pounds hamburger
26.  raspberry ice cream
27.  3 pts of sofrito
28.  2 jars of strawberry jam
29.  1 jar of pear jam
30.  2 soy burgers
31.  1 chicken patty
32.  2 pounds of margerine

If that's what I can stuff into my freezer, then it's a crying shame how much food is going to waste in my family's freezers. My goal this month is to reduce the freezer contents by about half. Hopefully that will also help reduce our food bills. My ultimate goal is to be able to look at the freezer and not have to move things to know what is stored.

How do you keep your freezer organized? Does buying in bulk work for you or do you prefer an empty or half-full freezer?

Friday, October 19, 2012

I don't know what I'm doing

Let's see, I've changed the look of the blog, deleted some pages, added some posts, confused everyone...just another Friday in Joanna's Brain.

When I started my first blog in the middle of a Winter storm three years ago. It was first called "Testing the America's Test Kitchen," and in it I planned to go through the entire America's Test Kitchen cookbook and test all of the strange cooking suggestions in it to see if they worked. I'd just watched Julie and Julia and it seemed like something to keep me occupied.

Well, that was more work than I thought. It's not easy to grate frozen butter into pie crust dough! Or to do a bunch of the dozens of other strange cooking things they suggest in the book. (The grating frozen butter into pie crust dough really does give you a flakier crust, BTW. And sore hands). I changed the topic of that blog to "Munching with Peach," figuring I'd turn it into a blog about my general cooking exploits, with my guinea pigs Munch and Peach narrating the experience.

Guinea pigs don't talk. That blog didn't last too long.

Palegreelife was my next foray, and that lasted for a while. I finally found something I was vaguely interested in, that being sustainable, frugal, green, simple living. Then I started decluttering. And only then did I get readers.

I thought I could become an expert on decluttering. I started another blog, the 365declutterchallenge, which only got hits when I finally blogged about my parents' little hoarding issue. And thus this blog was born.

Since then I've tried to blog about decluttering, hoarding, nut-free recipes, eating disorders, financial stuff...oh gosh....

I'm hoarding blogs.

Enough! It's just all going to go here from now on. The farther I get from my parents' hoarded home the more I find who I am.

I enjoy decluttering.
I love to cook.
I hate my eating disorder. Bite me, ED.
I think sustainable living is cool.
I have lousy financial skills. Wait -- skills? What skills?
I like people!

I won't stop blogging about hoarding because it has left a mark on me, and I feel it's important for other people to know that it's a serious illness but something can and should be treated. But I'm more than that now. I've met a lot of awesome people by blogging and I'd like to keep those connections. I hope you do too. If you'd like to see the girl from under the hoard, please stay.  You'll see more of her in the coming months.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Friday's Fashion Fallout: yes, an entire post about bras

If you lived through the 80s like I did, who can forget Madonna and this outfit? If you can call it that.
courtesy of

We all decided this was ridiculous, of course. I mean, I thought we had left the bullet-bra in the 1930s, when we didn't seem to know how to sew anything other than triangles?
from No kidding. I thought lingerie was supposed to attract a mate, not threaten to kill it?

No, in the 21st century we have learned. We have evolved. We have figured out how to make bras that have curves, and feminine form....and an incredible likeness to external silicone implants.
Behold, the Victoria's Secret Miraculous Bra. Guaranteed to add 2 cup sizes, for $59.99. Unlike the rest of my body, I'm quite happy with the size of my, er, tatas, but I never had cleavage. Oh, the downsides of having a huge ribcage. I thought I'd try it. The result? Sure, it added two cup sizes. But I think it did it in the wrong spot. Did I just glue a red, satiny breast implant to the outside of my chest and put a shirt over it? Why yes, I think I must've.

Me in my normal bra. See? NORMAL.
And now, me modeling the "miraculous" bra. It's an appropriate name, because only a saint could produce something this unnatural. And the most ironic part? Still no cleavage.

But apparently someone else wants to either look like a porn star or a plastic surgery case gone wrong. I sold it on ebay for $10. So I only lost $49.99 on the bra. Shudder.

The Reckoning

Item 143: The miraculous bra.
Cost: $50 in the end. And a large chunk of my feminism.
Fate: Ebay
Total money wasted on junk I never should've bought: $1554.00

 It's Friday....what have you cleaned out of your lingerie drawer today?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shameless self-promotion

Just for my other blog, Palegreenlife. It was my first foray into blogging and I so rarely can think of anything to post about. But not today! I'm thrilled about what I was able to do with my container garden this year.

And now back to your regularly scheduled un-hoarding.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Living with less: financial edition

The husband said it's okay to start noting our family expenses online, minus the mortgage. Shaming us into spending less?  Whatever works, I suppose. So for your auditor in you, I present our September expenses.

Until later!

Friday, October 12, 2012

minimalism / frugality FAIL

Let's play a game of Simon Says, as answered by the minimalist in me, and the frugal chick in me.

Simon says: I want bread.
The minimalist's response:The frugal chick's response:

Simon says: I want a vacation.
The minimalist's response:The frugal chick's response:

Simon says: I want a manicure.
The minimalist's response:The frugal chick's response:

Joanna's stomach says: I want yogurt. Every day.
Joanna's wallet says: 
$23 yogurt maker, pays for itself in five weeks.

The more I read simple living blogs, the more domestically bipolar I become. I can pay money to have other people make stuff for me so that I don't have to own gadgets and machines and pans and bottles and potions. Or I can own the made-in-China-with-slave-labor contraptions that allow me to make my own gosh darn yogurt and stop throwing out ten plastic containers a week. 

Our cabinets in our tiny kitchen are full with all of the contraptions we have to make practically all of our own food (though I draw the line at milling my own flour). I'll have to get rid of some mugs or something for this to fit. 

My internal frugal compass and my minimalist conscience are at war. I own a good bit of stuff (particularly in the kitchen) just because it lets me be frugal. Where do you draw the line?