I sometimes listen to The Minimalists podcast, though I can't entirely recommend it. They spend way too much time promoting themselves and whatever product it is they're shilling (particularly their documentary and speaking events). And I can't get on board with everything they suggest (no, I'm not going to teach kids to find "joy" in throwing out family photos and artwork - that's just weird). Plus, it's kind of frustrating when you realize how much of an initial monetary investment is necessary if and when you decide to adopt a more minimal lifestyle.
For instance, I decided to get rid of a lot of the clothes I owned, because I wasn't actually wearing them (didn't like them). But then I didn't have anything to wear, so I bought multiple copies of this one t-shirt I really like and made a sort of uniform out of it with gym leggings. The thing is, that's only possible because I'm in a secure financial position right now. So to lecture people to adopt a minimal lifestyle with less stuff - well, some people can't afford to throw out sub-par things that they will then have to replace. Yes, even bad, ugly clothes have function and worth. They keep you warm.
So all of that is just to say The Minimalists kind of rub me the wrong way.
BUT, I still find their podcast just useful enough to give them an occasional listen, if only to reiterate this one fundamental principle they constantly repeat:
Does it add value?
That's the question I've learned from them to ask myself before I purchase anything and before I decide to throw anything away. If the object in question adds value to my life (or will add value), then I'll keep it or maybe buy it. Though I have to be REALLY honest with myself about the answer to that question. Dishonesty = impulse/regretted purchase. If the object doesn't add value? Donate it (or just don't buy it).
Those old clothes weren't adding value to my life because they made it harder for me to get dressed each morning (decision fatigue) and they made me feel frumpy. They also made it harder to see/find what I actually owned (a lot of good stuff I had forgotten about because it was hidden out of sight due to sheer volume). And I happened to have the money to replace those clothes with a t-shirt that I already own and love, so I know it will add more value to my life. It's a pretty good rule of thumb and has helped me to make better purchasing decisions, something that I've always struggled with. (Maybe a lot of people struggle with it too?)
Taking inventory the other day, I noticed there are two objects in my life that add a HUGE amount of value to me.
The first is our robot vacuum cleaner. With two cats and a dog, our place can get pretty gross, pretty quick, what with mud getting tracked inside and fur clinging to just about every surface. Before we got the ILIFE vacuum, I was spending so much time cleaning our house. And that was time I really valued to do other things, like write. Eventually, it was my husband who talked me into getting one of these robot vacuums, because they had one at his lab and he saw for himself how useful it was. So we sprang, dropped the dough, and have never regretted it. That vacuum cleaner picks up SO MUCH DOG AND CAT HAIR. I don't have to vacuum or sweep anymore because of it, which has given me more time to do the things I actually value.
The second thing that has added a lot of value to my life is my convertible standing desk. I'm an editor. I work at a computer all day long. Being able to switch between sitting and standing in a matter of seconds has significantly improved my health in so many ways. I feel good at the end of the day, which wasn't the case before I bought the desk. My back feels great. My core muscles are stronger. And I've dropped a little weight that I had gained once I started working from home. I value all of those things, therefore, I really value my desk. If it broke, I'd buy another one, though it feels so sturdy I can't imagine it ever will (knock on wood, cause I love this thing).
Does it add value to your life? What a great question. Seriously, ask yourself that whenever you're of two minds about buying something. Will you value this thing in 6 months? If so, get it (if you have the money). If not, then don't worry about it. I wish somebody had taught me this 10 years ago. I would have saved so much money.
If you're into Science Fiction or Fantasy, I think you'll enjoy this week's Friday Kindle deals.
First up, there's a $1.99 sale on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which happens to be one of my fantasy-loving brother's favorite novels ever. It's about two magicians in 19th century England. Also, apparently it's a TV series now? Interesting.
Then we have the Dirk Gently box set ($1.99), which includes TWO books (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - best title ever) by Douglas Adams. If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you should definitely check out this other series by Adams. It's equally zany and fun.
And finally, you can read about time-travel and slavery in Octavia Butler's classic science fiction novel, Kindred, for just $2.99 on your Kindle or any other device that has the Kindle app.
Not a bad showing this week! Four great books that are worth reading.
It's that time of year again...yep, taxes.
Every year I say I'm going to pull a Ned Flanders and get my taxes done early, and LITERALLY every year I end up doing them the day before they're due, which always reminds me of that Simpsons episode.
I love you Homer Simpson.
Fortunately, Turbo Tax makes it easy and cheap to do your own taxes. I've never had any problems using it (though I have big issues with the fact that we have to "do" our taxes at all thanks to the lobbying efforts of Intuit, but that's another story).
All ranting aside, the one thing I'm pretty good at every year is buying Turbo Tax ahead of time when it's on sale. Right now you can get the Deluxe download of Turbo Tax for $20 off from Amazon. Or if you're self-employed like me, you can get the Home and Business version on sale for a whopping $35 off. Kind of wish I had found that deal yesterday...Seriously, don't buy directly through Intuit. They're only offering $10 off. When will I learn to always check Amazon first?
Anyway, if you've never tried doing your own taxes, give it a shot. Turbo Tax really does make it very easy by asking you simple questions about your work situation and how much you earned, etc. Then the program automatically calculates the math for you.
Ok, now that that's over, we can concentrate on the fun stuff, like finding a good book to escape into once you've finished your taxes. Sounds like my ideal reward.
If you're looking for something fun and light-hearted, maybe check out this Debbie Reynolds memoir, Make 'Em Laugh ($1.99).
Or get political with Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries ($1.99).
And because I'm a sucker for German Shepherds and police dogs, I might check out this mystery, Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima ($1.99). I'm not a huge mystery reader, but occasionally I like to try a new series. My all time favorite has to be the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn novels by Tony Hillerman. If you're also a reluctant mystery reader, those books are a great place to start, imo.
Anyway, lots of good reading options for escaping from tax season when you need a break. I know I will.
I'm trying really hard lately to save money. Lowering the heat. Not tooling around on Amazon. And most importantly, not eating out so often (seriously, there's only so much money you can save by switching off lights - it's the restaurants and the shopping that are killing your budget, trust me).
So of course, about ten different items in my house have chosen to fall apart or break, all at approximately the same time...My non-stick pans are no longer non-stick. The scroll feature on my mouse stopped working. And my rice cooker has been routinely undercooking the rice for over a year now. My Dad gave it to me when I was a freshman in college and I've used almost every week since. That's 12 years of service!
I know this obnoxiously Marie Kondo, but I actually thanked my rice cooker and hugged it before I threw it away. I couldn't help it, I was attached! I loved that thing.
But I had to throw it away because it was too broken to give to Goodwill. Plus...I got myself this new rice cooker for Christmas. Once again, it's turned out to be the best thing ever (yep, I guess I'm a grownup now, getting excited about rice cookers.) But the truth is they make cooking dinner so much easier. You just pop in some rice and water, hit a button, and 25 minutes later you have delicious pot of rice. What could be better?
Turns out, having the right tool for the job does make a big difference. Suffering through something that's broken or not working well anymore just isn't worth the money saved sometimes.
Realizing this, I also bit the bullet and bought myself a new wireless mouse. I was avoiding it for so long, because the last one I bought cost over $50! That was almost ten years ago, though, so I didn't even consider the fact it had probably become much cheaper since then.
What the hell was I waiting for! They literally cost $10ish now! I'm a writer and an editor. I use my mouse ALL DAY LONG. I can't believe I was suffering with this herky-jerky, and eventually non-scrolling mouse for MONTHS before I did anything about it. (Does this make me an underbuyer?)
I've also had that ratty old mousepad since college too. But where do you draw the line? If you went through your house and replaced everything that looked a little tatty or wasn't working 100%, you could probably spend $5000 easily. And that's the extra amount of money I want to save up this year (on top of our usual down-payment savings) to set aside for an emergency fund. I'm trying to borrow or reuse old stuff as much as I can, but I also like to have a nice house. It's a tricky balance, and I've never been very good at it, swinging between periods of wild spending to solve (in retrospect) mild problems, to abstaining altogether and doing stupid stuff like eating under-cooked rice for a year because I didn't want to spend $30 on an excellent new rice cooker.
Do you have any suggestions? How can I make better purchasing decisions? Is there a rule of thumb or a list of questions you ask yourself? I'd love to hear your ideas.
Snow storm! Wow, this is not a normal amount of snow for North Carolina. We got several inches yesterday, so today I dug out my cross-country skis and got moving!
I've had editing deadlines for 8 days straight, so I've been feeling a little cooped up and stir-crazy. I like to stay active because it makes me feel good, but that can be hard when I'm having a busy work week.
I've written previously about the back pain I've been having ever since I switched over to a desk job. I used to be a researcher and worked in a lab on my feet for hours a day, but when I began my editing business I found myself sitting for eight hours a day instead. My back hurt, my shoulders hurt, and I could feel myself ever so slowly gaining weight due to the decreased activity.
Yoga has helped me a lot to deal with the back pain and build stronger muscles, but the silver bullet has ultimately been one really great Black Friday purchase that has made marathon editing and writing just a little more bearable.
Yep, I did it. I invested in a convertible standing desk. I'm actually typing at it right now.
As you can see in the pictures, it raises and lowers, so you can easily switch back and forth between sitting and standing (which I've found is best - if I stand too much, my feet start to hurt).
If anyone's interested, it's actually called the "Halter ED-258 Preassembled Height Adjustable Desk Sit / Stand Desk Elevating Desktop" and it's on an even bigger sale now than when I bought it (d'oh!). I think I got it for $299 (down from $599) on Black Friday, but right now it's on sale for $239!
This is one of those rare purchases I would make again in a heartbeat (and we all know howI feel about shopping). I use it every single day, switching back and forth from sitting to standing about every other hour or so. My back pain has completely gone away and the minor weight gain has been slowly creeping back off again (as it should, slow and steady is the way to go).
So if you have a home office, or you're just looking for a convenient way to incorporate a standing desk into your workplace, I would recommend this standing desk 100%.
You can see from these pictures that the convertible desk is pretty big. There's a lot of room to put your monitor, computer, keyboard, etc. on it. My actual desk is fairly old and narrow (found it on the street years ago), so the convertible desk hangs off it slightly, which isn't ideal, but it's a fairly heavy device and the center of gravity is shifted further back, so it's not tippy at all. Just something to be aware of. The actual base that it sits on is about 23 inches deep and 28 inches wide.
I've gotten to the point where I prefer to work at my desk standing up now. I have to make some minor adjustments in the raised position to the height of my keyboard using some books, but it's really not a big deal. And I don't know, that might just be me. I seem to have issues finding a desk that fits my size.
Is this an issue that other women have? I feel like most desks are designed for a man. So for example, I've always had to use a little foot rest, like this one, beneath my desk so my legs don't dangle from the necessary raised height of my chair. (As you can see in the images, I still have to use the foot rest when I'm sitting.) It makes me feel like an old lady, but it's better than getting sciatica, which will REALLY make you feel like an old lady (I speak from experience).
Anyway, the desk struggle is real, which is why I thought it was worth it to invest in a convertible standing version. It helps make writing/editing feel less sedentary. Also, and I don't think this is a coincidence, but I've been writing more since I started using it. Based on that alone, I'd call this purchase a win.
Have you ever used a standing desk? They are surprisingly addictive. A few years ago, my Dad got one that doesn't raise or lower (it looks like this) and he swears by it. I think that version is less expensive too. Maybe a nice way to give it a try.
Writing, editing, and doing science when I feel like it. Just a book without a genre.