Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I have a lot to be thankful for these days. I'm almost done paying off my debt, I've got a plan for future financial goals, my health is holding up nicely, and several personal-life things are going well!

I hope everyone enjoys this day with family and/or friends.

I'll be back next week with some apartment updates. Dad is in town to help!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No Microwave?

In a continuing effort to declutter and minimize the amount of stuff I have, I did something big this weekend. I took my microwave out of the kitchen. Since I moved in a year ago, I started noticing how infrequently I actually use the microwave. This is probably do to cooking more fresh meals and eating less processed foods (i.e. instant dinners) that require a microwave.

Disclaimer: I haven't sold the microwave yet. It is sitting in my closet right now. I'm just holding on to it for a little bit to see if I can truly live without it. My goal is to make it to January and if I haven't needed it during that time, I'm listing the thing on Craigslist!

I never thought about not having a microwave, but in the last year I've noticed how little counter space I have in my kitchen. Not having enough room to prepare food has really annoyed me, and I couldn't help take a glance at the microwave, sitting there taking up a ton of space, and wondering if I really needed it.

And now look at how much space I have as compared to before!

I'd love to hear others' take on getting rid of the microwave. Have you done it?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 11/23/13 Edition

Every Saturday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: I wish more small space living options would come to DC. I'm jealous of these Vancouver options! Via Give Me Back My Five Bucks.

Best Financial: This week there was news of a new proposal for student loan repayment in the US. What if every borrower was put on the income-based repayment plan? This is done in other countries, such as Great Britain. Interesting idea to consider, via

Best DIY: Thanksgiving is next week, can you believe it? Design Sponge honors the holiday by proposing 10 DIYs for your Thanksgiving table.

Best Before & After: The mother of all kitchen before and afters! 20 in one blog post. Via theKitchn.

Best Random: I came across this handy resource this week: the Location Affordability Portal. Can you afford where you live? Check it out!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Challenging the Status Quo

Today’s post is about something I think about quite often: challenging commonly held notions. We all fall into the trap of acting like everyone else. We can’t help it. Humans follow leaders and find strength in numbers. But what about when “what everyone else does” stops making sense to you? 

Take debt, for example. All my life I was told that “money doesn’t grow on trees” and that there is “good” and “bad” debt. Student loan debt and a mortgage are “good,” credit card debt is “bad.” The two lessons here are that money is hard to come by and that debt can be both good and bad. The first is true, the second is the one I challenge.

If my money doesn’t grow on trees, it means it is hard to come by or you have to work extremely hard to get it. Following that logic, many decide that they’ll just take on a debt to have what they want now rather than later. In the case of a student loan or in some cases a mortgage, this makes more sense. You need an education to get certain jobs and you need a place to live. You don’t need to buy that one thing you want right now just because you really want it.

Debt has always been a bad word to me. It was what kept my parents paying bills on top of bills and working long hours. For a long time I thought that was just how it was, that this was how all families (except the extremely wealthy) live. We weren’t wealthy, so we lived on credit and everyone worked until they were physically unable.

I say NO to this. I challenge this status quo. Once I actually had debt, I realized it was a huge burden that was going to follow me around for over 10 years. My education was worth getting into debt for, but had I known then what I know now, I would have done things differently. Taking general education requirements at a community college, for example, would have saved me thousands of dollars.

Once I woke up to the fact that I could actually do myself a huge financial favor by getting out of debt quicker (thus saving a ton in interest), it was like a light-bulb went off in my head and I started examining other areas of my life where I kept with the status quo:

  • I live in a big city with good public transportation and bike lanes. Why would I need a car?
  • My clothes fit fine and last a long time. Why do I need to buy something new every season?
  • Something broke and I don’t know how to fix it. Why would I automatically buy a new one when I can teach myself how to fix it (i.e. Youtube videos) or take it in to a repair shop for less (i.e. shoes)?
  • I have plenty of food in my kitchen. Why would I need to go out and buy more just because I crave something particular?
  • I have functioning electronics that fulfill my needs. Why do I need to go out and buy the latest gadget?
  • I get a haircut at a local salon, spending close to $70 a few times a year. Why do I do this when my mom is a hair stylist and can cut my hair just fine?
  • I have plenty of makeup that looks just fine on me. Why do I need to buy more just because the fashion industry says something is “in” this season?
  • There are plenty of options for free exercise at my disposal: outdoor trails, free weights, yoga videos online, and a community indoor pool. Why do I need to “go to the gym” and pay for it?
  • I love reading and want to read as many books as possible. Why do I need to buy them when the library has perfectly good options?
  • I don’t have a ton of stuff so I don’t require a ton of space. Why do I need to buy a huge house or rent a huge apartment?
  • I don’t watch a ton of TV. Why do I need the fanciest cable package?

These are just some of the questions I’ve asked myself over the last 2 or 3 years. In every single instance I’ve realized I don’t need what society says I do. Some of these things are wants, yes. And once I’ve taken care of the real priorities, getting out of debt and building a comfortable emergency fund, then I’ll go back to some of these wants and reassess.

It isn’t always easy challenging the status quo. Even your most well-meaning friends or family members won’t always understand your reasoning. I’m the only person I know in real life that has attacked debt the way I have - paying off close to $20,000 in one year. I’ve made it my top priority to get out of debt, and have made the sacrifices necessary. But what is funny is I don’t consider any of the things I listed above - cable, car, gym membership, new clothes - as sacrifices. I started out thinking perhaps they would be, but then I realized I was perfectly happy without these things. I’ve become more financially stable in the process, and learned to prioritize the activities I truly enjoy.

These are my ways of challenging the status quo. What about you? Are there things you reject that “normal” society would think you are bonkers for not doing?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Glass vs. Plastic

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was reading Zero Waste Home, a book about minimizing your lifestyle and the waste it produces. I've finished the book and decided that it is time to a make a few changes. I don't think I'll ever be at the level of this book (not going to re-use toilet paper yet), but there are definitely areas of my life where I can reduce my production of waste. One is in the form of replacing plastic products with glass ones.

For example, it never occurred to me that you can still buy milk in glass bottles. This was the stuff of black and white TV and stories from my parents' childhood - a milkman that brings bottles of milk to your door. If only I had paid attention at Whole Foods before now - I would have seen milk in bottles long ago! Last weekend I paid attention and found this:

This jug of milk cost $3.99, only $1 more than the normal plastic jug I usually purchase. One thing I noticed about this brand of milk is that it seemed brand-less. It is just milk. I love the simplicity of that. No brand wars here, just plain old milk. I was also used to the various milks being in different color packaging: blue for skim, red for 1%, green for 2%, for example. Not with this milk. At first I thought there was a reason each bottle had a different color lid, but when I examined them I couldn't see any difference. The bottles were different but the product was the same. Now that I know this, shopping in the milk aisle will be easy.

Because the jug is glass and not plastic, I paid a $2 bottle fee. When I go back to the grocery store, I return the bottle and get the $2 back - see the "Please Rinse and Return for Deposit" language on the bottle.

So why switch to milk that comes in a glass container? It is part of my overall switch to glass over plastic when appropriate. I've been slowly gathering mason jars to replace plastic containers that wear out, and when I think about what I recycle, the majority is plastic anyway. By re-using glass jars at home and returning the milk jug to the store, I'm reusing items instead of buying brand new. This reduces my waste, thus reducing what goes in the landfill.

Now, I had originally thought that glass was better than plastic in all areas. Glass doesn't emit chemicals, glass cleans easier, glass recycles easier. After a bit of research (see here and here), it looks like glass can be more detrimental to the environment when produced in mass quantities. But, in terms of reusability, glass still makes more sense than plastic. In the case of this particular milk jug, when I return it to Whole Foods, they'll return it to the manufacturer, who will put more milk in it. That's a pretty good use of one jug. The plastic jugs never go back to the milk producer, they go right in the landfill or, if you are lucky, a recycling plant. I have a few plastic milk jugs at home that I reuse (one for watering plants, for example), but at the rate I consume milk, I've thrown more jugs away than I have reused. Not so great for Mother Earth!

Do you reuse glass containers in your home? What are some of your favorite uses for them?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 11/09/13 Edition

Every Saturday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: Someone not too far away from me, in Bethesda, lives in a Tiny Home! How adorable. Via Tiny House Blog.

Best Financial: This post is a few weeks old, but I only discovered it this week and it blew my mind. This guy's income is much higher than mine, yet he pays less taxes. Check out Root of Good to see how he does it.

Best DIY: I'm scared to dye my clothes - how about you? Fun to see others do it though, via Unclutterer.

Best Before & After: The lime green in the "before" shot reminded me of my grandparents' old bathroom. Yuck. The "after" is a great improvement! Via Design Sponge.

Best Random: I found a new tiny house website to obsess over! Molecule Tiny Homes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

To Bike or Not to Bike?

That is the question!

I've been debating on getting a bike for the better part of a year now. DC is a fairly bike-friendly city. There are numerous trails and lanes to make commuting via bike possible and even enjoyable. However, one thing DC does NOT have going for itself is the number of bike thefts. When I first moved here three years ago, my bike got stolen right outside my office building. It was locked up, but not well enough, apparently. Anecdotal evidence tells me this is quite common: every single person I know who has a bike in DC has, at one time or another, had their bike stolen while living here. These accounts are backed up by actual reporting as well.

Giant Women's Bike $400 @ Bike Rack DC
Despite the bike theft problem in DC, I've decided to answer my own question with - TO BIKE! I have weighed the pros and cons and have decided that there are more pros than cons, so I'm in the market for a bike come the spring. In fact, I'm in a perfect position to own a bike:

1. I live a convenient 2.5 mile commute from work. The ride to work is downhill and there is plenty of space for bike riders along my route. My commute home will likely leave me sweaty, but since it is the end of the day, oh well!

2. Free bike storage both at work and at home. My office building does not charge a fee for bikes, but it does for cars. Likewise, my apartment building doesn't charge for storing your bike in the parking garage. Beat you all, car drivers!!

3. Biking will cut down on the time it takes me to run errands. I currently either walk or use public transportation. With my own bike, I will have the freedom to come and go as I please.

4. I'll save money over the long-term by not riding public transportation. I already save a lot by choosing public transportation over owning/driving my own car. Biking will increase my savings after the initial investment cost.

U-Lock with Cable $68 @ Bike Rack DC
The next few months will be devoted to saving and researching. But what I can say for sure is I've learned a few things from my experience getting my bike stolen and won't repeat them. For example, I'm getting a U-lock. Maybe two. Secondly, I'm registering my bike with the police. I'm not sure what good this will do, but at least I can say I did what I could to discourage bike theft.

And I didn't even touch on the obvious here - biking is great exercise! And more reason for me to boycott boring, money-sucking gyms!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Composting and Apartment Living

I started reading Zero Waste Home, which is a guidebook for how to eliminate waste in your home and, in general, contribute to a greener world. The book is based on the blog of the same name. I read the blog last spring and went over what I do and don't do as far as eliminating waste is concerned. I'm now taking a deeper look at the subject. First up is the idea of composting.

Is it possible to compost in an urban apartment? "Yes, but..." would be my answer. I've looked into a few ideas, and I'm not quite sold on any of them yet.

1. Stealth Composting
This is probably the least expensive option - you pay for the materials you need. But it requires more maintenance and a greater understand of composting in general. It also takes a few months to produce actual dirt for use. This one would probably be the most rewarding of the options. I would create the system and teach myself how to use it.

2. Nature Mill Compost Bin
The reviews on these have been all over the map, which is why I hesitate. Some love it, some say the design is shoddy and the company doesn't stand by the product. The convenience of this thing is its biggest selling point. You put in your scraps and it turns itself for you and in two weeks you have dirt. Those truly "green" folk would say this isn't worth it because you are buying another product that you could easily make at home with stealth composting. It also uses electricity, albeit a very small amount. But the convenience for an apartment dweller is almost cancelling out the negative reviews.

3. Vermicomposting
This involves buying red worms and setting up a bin for them to do their magic. This is appealing because it seems to take up little space, but means I'll have to keep those littler critters happy. I consider this to be on the same level as stealth composting. It is rewarding in the long run but a bit more complicated to start.

4. Composting Services such as Compost Cab and Fat Worm Composting.
This is definitely the simplest option. You pay a service to come get your food scraps for you. In exchange, you get some dirt every once in a while. I'm unlikely to do this because I don't want to pay for such a service. I would rather DC come up with a good curbside composting system like Seattle and San Francisco. But until that happens, this is a viable option, I guess.

Put your indoor composting tips in the comments! Have you ever tried any of the above?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 11/03/2013

Every Saturday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: I can't stop drooling over this amazing 270 sq. foot apartment. I saw this first on Apartment Therapy, but am now enamored with the original site, Arch Daily.

Best Financial: I have enjoyed following Joan's journey to becoming debt free over at Man vs. Debt. I don't agree with her latest choice to cash out her 401k to pay down debt, but I encourage you to read it and see what you think of the decision.

Best DIY: A perfect solution for a headboard if you have slanted ceilings. Via Apartment Therapy.

Best Before & After: I normally read Punch Debt in the Face for motivation to punch my own debt. Today, though, I'm totally loving all the design choices that Ninja and Girl Ninja have made in their new home!

Best Random: Despite its name, this website is a great source of free images to use when blogging! Fellow bloggers, check out Morgue File!