Decluttering the House – April 30 Day Project Update

My 30 Day Project for April is to declutter my entire house.   That’s every room, every dresser, every drawer. We’ve got 12 years of jointly accumulated clutter.

Our progress so far has been wonderful.   The main level of our house is almost done.

In our daughters’ room, we put in bunk beds and pulled out a dresser.   With the crib, changing table, and toddler bed removed, they actually have room to play on the floor.  Their closet has been emptied and repurposed as scrapbooking and blanket storage.  Cost: $140 for the bunk beds.

Our son’s room has had a dresser, a desk, and a bed replaced with a loft bed.   Even with the 6 foot tall monstrosity of a bed, his room looks so much bigger.    We still have to clean out his closet, which is mostly artifacts of a business we no longer have, leftovers from when his bedroom was our office.  Cost: $260 for the loft bed.

Our room was depressing. Never dirty, but oh-so-full.   The closet was jam-packed.  The top shelf was full of towels and sheets.   The closet rod couldn’t fit another shirt.   There was a modular shelving system on the floor of the closet–full.  We had three full dressers.   The headboard has 5 foot tall cabinets, half of which were full of makeup and jewelry, the other half with books.   Now, there is 1 empty dresser.   It belonged to my great-grandmother, so it’s going to the shop to be refinished, instead of the garage sale to be sold.   Another dresser has spare room in it.   There’s no need to rearrange the cabinets to get to anything.    The closet is less than half full and there is almost nothing on the floor of the closet.   Gear for my side-line business is stored out of sight and out of the way.  This is so much more relaxing.

We’ve tackled the kitchen, except for 1 cabinet, which is mostly cookbooks and booze.   That will be fun to clean out.

Our front closet was worthless.   It was so full we put hooks on the outside of the door to hang our coats.   We pulled out a dozen coats we never wear.   At least 20 pairs of shoes, some belonging to roommates gone 1o years.   We can actually use the closet now. The shoes and boots all have homes.  Our coats all fit…inside.

We have 1 closet and 1 cabinet left to address on the main level.   There are also 3 small rooms in the basement that need to be gutted–the laundry room, the family room, and a room that has been designated for storage and the litter box.    The last one will be the hardest.    It’s full of remnants of hobbies past and failed ventures.   I’m expecting some fights, flowing every possible direction.

In the process, we’ve filled our dining room with stuff for our garage sale…twice.   It’s all getting priced and boxed as we go through it.   We thrown away anything we won’t be able to sell.   We’ve done all of this with the mutual understanding that nothing is coming back in the house.  After the sale, it will be donated or sold on Craigslist, but it won’t become a part of our lives again.   We are successfully purging so much.    The “skinny clothes” are gone.   When the time comes, they’ll be replaced.  In the meantime, they can be put to better use on someone else.   Hobbies that never took, games that are never played, it’s all going.    We are getting down to the things that are actually used and useful.

It’s interesting to note that the process is getting easier as the month goes by.     My Mother-in-Law is a hoarder.    Those habits get passed down, but what was originally a source of stress has turned into a pleasant chore.

The most wonderful discovery of all?  It turns out we don’t need a better storage system, we just need less stuff.

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.

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Save Your Family

Grave

I don’t attach much importance to dreams.  They are just there to make sleepy-time less boring. Last night, I had a dream where I spent most of my time trying to prepare my wife to run our finances before telling my son that I wouldn’t be around to watch him grow up.    That’s an unpleasant thought to wake up with.  Lying there, trying to digest this dream, I started thinking about the transition from “I deal with the bills” to “I’m not there to deal with it”.   We aren’t prepared for that transition.   Last year, we started putting together our “In case of death” file, but that project fell short.    The highest priorities are done.   We have wills and health directives, but how would my wife pay the bills?  Everything is electronic.  Does she know how to log in to the bank’s billpay system?    Which bills are only in my name, and will go away if I die?   Is there a list of our life insurance policies?

I checked the incomplete file that contains this information.   It hasn’t been updated since September.  It’s time to get that finished.  Procrastinating is inappropriate and denial is futile.   Here’s a news flash: You are going to die. Hopefully, it won’t happen soon, but it will happen.  Is your family prepared for that?

The questions are  “What do I need?” and “What do I have?”

First and foremost, you need a will.  If you have children and do not have a will, take a moment–right now– to slap yourself.   A judge is not the best person to determine where your children should go if you die. The rest of it is minor, if you’re married.   Let your next-of-kin, your spouse keep it.  I don’t care.   Just take care of your kids! Set up a trust to pay for the care of your children.   Their new guardians will appreciate it.  How hard is it to set up?   I use Quicken Willmaker and have been very pleased.  Of course, the true test is in probate court, and I won’t be there for it.   If you are more comfortable getting an attorney, then do so. I’ve done it each way.    You can cut some costs by using Willmaker, then taking it to an attorney for review.

It’s a sad fact that often, before you die, you spend some time dying.  Do you have a health care directive?   Does your family know, in writing, if and when you want the plug pulled? Who gets to make that decision?   Have you set up a medical power of attorney, so someone can make medical decisions on your behalf if you aren’t able?  Do you want, and if so, do you have a Do-Not-Resuscitate order?  Willmaker will handle all of this, too.

What’s going to happen to your bank accounts?  I’m personally a fan of keeping both of our names on all of our accounts.   I share my life and my heart, I’d better be able to trust her with our money. If that’s not an option, for whatever reason, fill out the “Payable on Death” information for your accounts, establishing a beneficiary who can get access to your money if you die.   Do you want your spouse to lose the house or the car if you die? Should your kids have to miss meals?  Make sure necessary access to your money exists.

Does anybody know what you have for life insurance? Get a copy of the policy and make sure your spouse and someone else knows what company holds it and how much it is worth.

Now, it’s time to make some lists.   You need to gather account numbers and contact information for everything.

  • Bank accounts. List every bank and account you own.  Checking, savings, CDs.
  • Investment accounts. Again, every company, every account.
  • Mortgage and car payment information.
  • Life insurance. Get your policy numbers, contact information, beneficiaries, and amount of coverage all in one place.
  • Credit card accounts. Every card, every company.    If it’s just your name on the account, your spouse will need to send certified death certificates to stop collections.  Otherwise, she’ll need to pay the bills.
  • Utilities.  Get the account number for the electric bill, the gas bill, water/sewer/garbage, cable and phones.
  • Other bills. These include car/home insurance, Netflix, memberships and anything else you pay.
  • I’ve included the account information for my web host, registrars and websites. Some of it is salable, some of it is income-generating.
  • Car titles. Put the actual titles in the pile of lists.
  • Property deeds. Keep these here, too.

Non-financial information to list:

  • Online accounts. Any financial sites that would be useful, or any community sites you would like to have informed about your death.  Your online presence is a part of who you are.
  • Email accounts. Will your survivors need to interact with anybody potentially contacting you?   They will need your username and password, or most big providers won’t let them in.
  • Social media. How many networks do you participate in?  Do you want to disappear, or should all of your Facebook friends know your dead?
  • Blogs. Do you have a blog that needs an announcement?   Does it generate income?  Could it be sold?
  • Contact list. Who else needs to be informed of your demise?  Don’t make your loved ones hunt for the information.

Now, take all of this information and put it in a nice, fat envelope and lock it in the fireproof safe you have bolted to the floor.  Make a copy and give it to someone you trust absolutely.   Make sure someone knows the combination to the safe or where to find the key.

Your loved ones will appreciate it.

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Failure! 30 Day Project Summary – March

My 30 Day Project for the month of March has been to do 100 sit-ups in a single set.   Based on February’s results, I had a plan.

I will be doing 5 sets, morning and night, as follows:

Set 1:  Half of my maximum amount.

Sets 2-4: 3/4 of my max.

Set 5: Do sit-ups until my abs start to cramp, thus setting my max for the next session.

I failed miserably.

It started off perfectly.   My base amount was 20 sit-ups.   I had a plan.  I’d proven, at least to myself, that I was able to follow an intense workout plan, even through pain.    I was encouraged by February’s results, so I dove in.

The first 3 or 4 days went well.   I had some muscle strain, but that was expected.   I hadn’t done sit-ups for years.   I discovered muscles I actually hadn’t known existed, just from how they hurt.   This was the good pain, the pain that shows progress.  After doing the push-ups in February, this pain wasn’t as bad as I had expected.   Push-ups are an excellent ab workout.

Maybe I became complacent.  Either my form slipped, or I was going too fast and “bounced” through the sit-ups, but I pulled a muscle in my back.   This was the bad pain, the pain that warns of fundamental problems.   My form, my size, my history of back problems, who knows?   One or more of those possible problems reared up to turn an excellent idea into a disaster.   March’s plan got sidelined for a few days.

When my back was better, I started again.   Again, everything was fine for 3 or 4 days.  Then my back betrayed me, again.   Another break, another try, another strain and I gave up.    I made it to 50, then just stopped.   Too much more, and I wouldn’t be able to tolerate sitting at my desk.   Or maybe I just wimped out, afraid to hurt my back again.

I’m disappointed.   I haven’t done a single sit-up in the last week.

To make matters worse, without the sit-ups to do in the morning, I’ve been letting myself snooze my alarm clock instead of getting up at 5.   March has been such a slacker month.

Lesson learned:  Always listen to your body.   Don’t get tied into a specific routine–even one you created for yourself–if your body is demanding to stop.   Watch your form and make sure you aren’t putting undue strain on anything that can cause long-term damage.

Lesson learned, part II:  Push-ups are more fun and less painful than sit-ups.   They will be getting incorporated into my ongoing routine.

Ending the sit-ups did leave me enough energy to get an early start on April’s 30 Day Project.   The goal for next month is to declutter every room in the house:   Every closet, every dresser, every drawer.

Loft Bed

Loft Bed

To start, we replaced our son’s dresser, bed, and desk with a loft-bed that combines the three.   While transferring items from the desk and dresser to the new bed, everything was sorted to make sure it still fit and was used and useful.  If it didn’t meet those criteria, it was either tossed or priced and boxed for a garage sale.

In the girls’ room, we removed a dresser, the changing table, a toddler bed, a convertible crib/toddler bed.  It all got replaced with a set of bunk beds and the dresser we took from our son.   Everything got the same garage-sale check before it was put away.

Both of these changes easily tripled the usable floor space in each room and all of the kids love their new beds.   Using the magic of Craigslist, I think we got the new furniture for 10-15% of retail, and have old furniture to add to our sale, which will further defray the cost.

This leaves the master bedroom, the bathroom, the front closet, the kitchen and our entire basement to go.   Shoes and jackets that have never been worn.   Books that will never be reread.  Bye-bye.   Some of it will be painful, but we all realize it’s necessary.  We’ve already filled more than 2 dozen boxes of stuff to sell.   None of it is coming back in the house.  If it doesn’t sell, we’re donating it.

More to come as we progress through the mountains of crap.

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5 Ways to Reduce Temptation and Have a Peaceful dinner

It never fails: you send the kids off to the salt mine babysitter for the evening, cook a nice dinner and light some candles. Then, just as you sit down, the phone rings.

Now you have 2 choices, you can do like me and ignore the phone if it’s inconvenient to answer or you can ruin a romantic dinner.   The telemarketers know that, statistically, you are home at dinner time.  They don’t care if you are celebrating an anniversary or just trying to connect with your loved one.

Why not preemptively stop the irritation? While you’re at it, stop the junk mail, too. It’s not as hard as you’d think.  It’s a simple, almost free process that will not only eliminate the frustration of pointless calls and sorted junk mail, but will also cut down on the temptation of seeing something shiny to buy.

Here are the four steps to a leaner, greener and romantic dinner-making you:

1. Get on all of the Do Not Call lists.

  • You can get on the federal list by visiting www.donotcall.gov or calling (888) 382-1222.  The tele-sales weasels will have have a month to clear you out of their systems.
  • If you still get calls–some calls are still allowed, including political calls, non-profit fundraisers, and surveys–they are still required to maintain an in-house do not call list.  Tell them to put you on that list.
  • Many states have a Do Not Call list that is entirely independent of the the federal list. This is redundant, but the more roadblocks you put up, the better you will be.

If you are still getting calls, report them to the FTC at:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
1-877-FTC-HELP
www.ftc.gov

2.  Opt out of junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association manages a list of people who do not want junk mail.  This list only applies to members of the association, but most mass-mailers participate.  Go to www.dmachoice.org to enroll.  It costs $1 to get on the list and will stop most junk mail for 3 years.

3. Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers. Go to  www.optoutprescreen.com to remove your name from the lists generated by the major credit bureaus to sell to marketing firms.  You can put a halt to this breed of junk for 5 years or forever.

4. Ask them to stop. If you are getting catalogs from a company with which you have an existing relationship, ask them to knock it off.   Virtually every one will stop sending you garbage to ensure a continuing business relationship with you.

5.  Guerrilla Warfare. If none of this works, there are still a couple of options.

  • Keep an airhorn by the phone.   They won’t call twice.
  • Take everything you receive from a company, stuff it all in the prepaid return envelope they helpfully included, and drop it back in the mail.   They only get charged for the prepaid envelopes when they are used, so use them up.  It’s illegal to alter them to send mail to other people, but it’s not illegal to mail them all of their own garbage.  If you cost them enough money, they will eventually back down.
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