December 12, 2013
We have a $200 Christmas budget this year. I feel neither sad nor deprived about this. We’ve been leaning into simplicity over the last few years in order to focus on what’s important. This is just an extension of our goals around voluntary simplicity or frugality. How did we get to the $200 amount? It’s the amount that we have in our virtual Christmas envelope. Let me back up a few steps. Charlie and I have been fundamentally pro-budget since we’ve been married. Over the years, as Charlie’s income has gone up, our spending to the budget has declined. We would do a budget, track our spending, but then mostly use it as a tool to look back and see how we did. We had considered going to a total cash budget, but we were both enthusiastic about travel hacking and maximizing airline miles on credit cards. Thus, we put off the cash budget.
We have periodic budget meetings. Over the last few years, they’ve been (roughly) quarterly and mostly grim. In other words, we spent more than we wanted to. We were continually frustrated with ourselves. I usually brought up the cash budget, and Charlie usually wanted to continue to try to get our acts together financially and optimize airline miles. Over and over again, we seemed not to be getting ahead. Not saving as aggressively as we wanted to, although we knew that we should be able to with Charlie’s income. In early autumn, Charlie did some detailed analysis for our spending over the last year. What he found made us both get a catch in the gut. We were actually spending more than Charlie’s salary. I know. Rookie problem. The reason we were able to keep going and not go into debt is that we were making ends meet using his bonuses. Our lifestyle didn’t seem over the top to us. It just seemed sort of normal. Normal for Menlo Park. Which is to say normal here is different from “normal” in other areas. Menlo Park is the hub of venture capital. So, there’s a lot of money here. People have a lot of cool stuff. Really big, nice houses. Cool cars. Which is all fine, except that it can distort your sense of what is actually normal.
This is where my being involved with poverty alleviation gives me a bit of perspective. Being involved with issues surrounding poverty helps me remember what’s true. What’s true is that most people on the planet live in a space the size of my dining room. What’s true is that access to clean water is considered a clean water source less than a mile away. With that definition, 345,000,000 people still don’t have access to clean water. What’s true is that if your family earns $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of global income earners. So, I can look at Menlo Park and set my norms based on that. Or, I can learn about what is actually normal for the majority of the world and re-set my norms based on what I know to be true.
This has led our family to an attitude of abundance. I recently took an on-line class from Brene Brown. It was wonderful for so many reasons. One of them was that there was a ton of emphasis on practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude is different from “trying to be grateful”. Practicing gratitude is like practicing yoga. You actually have to make yourself slow down and be grateful. There is a mindfulness and an intentionality. Sit down and write about those things for which you are grateful. Write them down. Look at your list. Ponder it and add to it. Once you start down the rabbit hole, you find an unending list. I know where my next 365 meals are coming from. My kids never go to bed hungry. I have shelter every single night. I have central heat. My kids have access to a great education. I’m married to a man who I deeply love and respect- and who feels the same way about me. We live in a safe neighborhood. I have five places in my house where you can turn on a tap and get fresh, drinkable water . We have access to hot water whenever we want it. I don’t even have to heat it myself. If my kids are sick, I take them to the doctor without even thinking about it. Which is to say, we are rich. There is plenty. There is more than enough.
This attitude of abundance was incredibly helpful when I looked at the $200 in our Christmas envelope. Knowing how good we already have it, I can look at our $200 budget and realize how rich that is. Because we started our new budget on November 1, we only had two months to save for Christmas. Thus, $200. Next year we’ll likely have more money to spend. That being said, I like our Christmases to be quiet and peaceful. There is so much to gaining white space in your Christmas. I’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’re slowing down or spending less during this holiday season.
Click on my other posts below on slowing down during the holidays.
December 10, 2013
I would love to invite you to check our our Fair Deal Christmas Special over at the Frustrated Farmgirl store. We love Bryan’s recycled chopstick soap trays over at Chopstick Art. Buy three bars of Frustrated Farmgirl soap, and we would love to give you a Chopstick Art soap dish for free. It’s an $8.50 value. We think you’ll love our soap (and Chopstick Art soap dishes) as much as we do.
November 25, 2013
I shared Brene Brown’s first talk with you yesterday. Below is her 2nd TED talk. Honestly, I love it even more than her first talk. This one is on Listening to Shame. In case you’re interested, she is teaching the e-class again in early 2014. Here’s the website.
November 24, 2013
I’ve been taking an e-class from Brene Brown on her book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s been powerful. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to share her two TED talks. So, so wonderful. This one is on The Power of Vulnerability. The work surrounding this class is what I’ve been thinking about, chewing on and doing art therapy around for the last couple of months. It’s been so powerful for me that I wanted to share it with you. I hope it will be powerful for you, too.
November 8, 2013
Summary: Total Money Makeover is Dave Ramsey’s practical how-to guide to apply his financial principles of money management. It is less about the why (although there are some anecdotal stories scattered throughout) than about the how. His step-by-step process is summarized like this:
- Save a $1000 emergency fund
- Eliminate all debt except for house payment
- Save a 3–6 month emergency fund…
October 2, 2013
This is a re-post from several years ago. With Halloween coming up, I wanted to re-visit child slavery in the chocolate supply chain. It remains to be a problem. It is possible to get slave-free chocolate by either buying organic or fair trade chocolate. Equal Exchange makes yummy trick-or-treat chocolate that you can purchase here. Or, just don’t buy chocolate. With that, I hope you find this article helpful. I also recommend The Dark Side of Chocolate, which you can watch here.
I’ve been putting this post off for a long time. Truthfully, it’s a bit overwhelming. The subject matter is overwhelming, as is the amount of information that is available. So, instead of writing a dissertation (I know you’ll thank me), I decided to give you just the information that you need to make better purchasing choices.
It’s horrific. The whole thing. Chocolate is one of the dirtiest foods that we consume in terms of human cost.
Forty-three percent of the chocolate on the open market is touched by child slavery. Ivory Coast is known for its chocolate. It’s a heavy producer, and the cocoa beans are known for being very high quality. Sadly, many children are trafficked to Ivory Coast (often from Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo) and then kept as slaves picking and processing cocoa beans. According to Wikipedia, they are lured by promises of “paid work, housing and education”. I don’t want to inundate you with horrific stories just for the shock value. I’ll just mention a few key facts. Children (mostly aged 12-16) are forced to work up to 100 hour weeks. When they don’t work hard enough, they are beaten. To quote one child, “the beatings were a part of my life”. Children as young as 11 years old are forced to carry heavy bags of cocoa beans, often resulting in sores all over their shoulders. I’ve read several different sources that stated that there were more than 15,000 child slaves in Ivory Coast working in cocoa production. Another common statistic that I’ve read is that there are 200,000 child laborers in Ivory Coast.
According to Wikipedia, “the major chocolate producers such as Nestle buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa.” When asked about slavery in their supply chain, they claim that they can’t control the cocoa beans that come into the commodities market. My heart pounds when I think about this. It makes me so angry- because it’s a cop out. The product that they’re selling is profitable, and they are choosing to look the other way. There was lip service given when many of the chocolate manufacturers signed the Harkin-Engel protocol in 2001, which aimed at ending the worst of the abuses. But, no substantive changes have come to date. Many deadlines have been missed. The industry, as a whole, doesn’t seem to be very serious about implementing the protocol. According to Media Freedom International as of October 2010, Hershey’s “still has no certification system in place whatsoever to ensure that its cocoa isn’t tainted by labor rights abuses”.
What you need to know is that it is possible to get chocolate that is cruelty-free.
The two categories of chocolate that are considered to be slavery-free are Fair Trade and Organic. According to chocolatework.com, chocolate companies who buy from Fair Trade collectives pay prices that bring a living wage to workers, plus money that goes back to the collective. Often, the monies that go back to collectives are used for education and/or healthcare. “Because organic farms are subject to an independent monitoring system that checks labor practices, organic chocolate is also considered slave free”.
This is an area where, as consumers, we can have an impact. First, we can stop supporting companies that aren’t serious about ending slavery in their supply chains. Then, we can choose to support companies that are serious about making ethical chocolate. Organic and Fair Trade chocolates are more expensive, to be sure. For our family, it’s worth it. We eat less chocolate. But, when we eat it, we can be sure that it’s cruelty-free. In the next few days, I’ll be telling you about two chocolate companies that I recommend.
September 21, 2013
Minimizing toys can be tough and emotionally loaded. My husband and I are on the same page with minimizing toys, which makes it much easier. But, getting rid of toys can cause relational tension with your kids and family members. We told our family about our one-in-one-out policy. Knowing that for every toy that came in, one would go out was hard for them. Some felt sorry for our children. But, neither my husband nor I feel sorry for our kids for having to make choices. They can’t have everything they want- they have to choose and focus on only those things they most value.
With that, I wanted to share a few thoughts on toys:
- Resist toys that do something to entertain your children. Talk. Move. In my opinion, these toys lose their novelty quickly.
- Lean towards toys that require something of your children. Designing. Pretending. Creating. Building. Crafting. Decorating.
- I love wood blocks. I bought a heavy set as soon as I was sure that Charlie wouldn’t hurt his sister with them. These are one of the items that I’m planning to hold on to even after my children are gone.
- Trains are wonderful toys. Although our children have outgrown them, I get them out regularly when young children visit our house. Charlie and Elizabeth are more than happy to help their younger friends by building track- not because they want to, mind you. They’re being helpful. ;-/
- Legos are wonderful. After the initial project is built, there’s so much room to build and create. I love what our children come up with.
- Our Playmobil toys have seen a ton of use. For several years, the kids would get lost in their created universes. My kids often set up scenarios that included wood blocks, legos and Playmobil.
- Art. I keep a well stocked art cabinet. If the kids are bored, we get the bin out and talk about the possibilities. There are hot glue guns, potholder kits, yarn, knitting needles, embroidery supplies, felt, sculpey clay, paint, paint brushes and heavy paper.
- Board and card games. So much to be said here. Board games have helped my children practice the habit of being a good sport. Throughout life, they’ll benefit from being able to win and lose graciously. Our current favorites: Dixit. Forbidden Island. Skipbo. Jumbling Towers. Aquarius. When I’m playing with Elizabeth, she still often opts for Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders.
- We go through the kids toys about every six months. The kids choose which toys they’re ready to part with. If they haven’t played with a toy in the last six months, might be time for the toy to have a new owner.
- Our back yard is our best toy. The kids still spend hours creating rivers in the back yard with the hose on a trickle. They love to set up Playmobil villages, rivers and dams. They pretend for hours.
- I can’t recommend a rebounder highly enough for home schoolers. Whenever our children have a hard time settling down, 3-5 minutes of jumping helps them calm down and focus. We still use it several times a week.
Perhaps this list doesn’t sound so minimalist. It’s definitely not as lean as some minimalists. Minimalism is a process for our family. We’re trying to live simply with only the items that we find beautiful or useful. Yes, we could cut the number of toys. We’re trying to tread lightly with our children. While we would love for them to grow up embracing simple living, they are not minimalists right now. We love our kids more than we love minimalism, and we don’t want to have conflict over belongings. As we move toward my older child’s pre-teen years , we want to spend our relational capital carefully. We have found that as all our belongings are more and more simplified over time, our children have gotten used to getting rid of what they don’t play with. They often suggest it before I do now. So, it truly hasn’t been a battle.
What about you? Thoughts on great toys for toy minimalists?