It’s been a thrifty week. We’ve all been at work or school for long hours, and it’s been fairly cold. None of us has any desire to go out in the dark and cold for anything unnecessary or superfluous. I’ve been so pressed for time that I was utterly thrilled to find two jars of soup in the freezer last night to finish out my workweek lunches.
I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits in an atomically slow fashion – about 3 pages/day during my work lunch (I’m guessing I’ll beat my coworker, who is reading Chernow’s Hamilton in the same manner). Today I was reading Clear’s summary of the cue, craving, response, and reward progression that everyone consciously or unconsciously experiences many times each day, and it occurred to me that Thom and I both find rewards in our frugality.
What are the rewards to which we have conditioned ourselves?
The challenge of making something by hand
The security of savings
Creating things that are better in some way – unique or tastier or containing our favorite materials – than we could purchase
Some might say that I need more excitement in my life, if leftover soup is that exciting. But why would I want to change the ability to experience happiness over such little things?
(Ilse) Hygge is all over the media these past couple of years and our library has some lovely books on the subject, but I think I’ve known about it most of my life… it just didn’t have a name and wasn’t practiced to the extent that it is elsewhere. After reading about hygge, I realized that this is what I always loved about my visits to family in Germany – the focus on simple pleasures such as friends and family, the outdoors, and good food. All were often combined in a leisurely midday dinner or afternoon coffee outside. My grandparents’ house on Long Island was full of hygge, but somehow it always felt to me that it ended when I left… I didn’t feel the same anywhere else.
Before hygge awareness arrived, I had already adopted the “home as cabin” mindset. I think that some of my friends understand this, but not all. Honestly, we’ve mostly quit hosting since my return to full-time work, primarily because of my schedule, but also because I became aware of some house snobbery among a couple who are otherwise good friends. They do have a nice house, but I don’t feel a lot of hygge there.
What makes me feel a sense of calm and wellbeing in our house?
Good aromas… baking bread, spices, fresh air in the summer
Sounds of nature… owls in summer, rain in spring and fall, wind in winter
Snoozing pets… they are so easily pleased – a fleece blanket, a sunbeam, a lap
Coziness… in winter, ample warm blankets and throws, throughout the house
The right lights… reading lamps, LED candles on timers
(Kelli) I love it when it’s quiet. Right now I’m up past my bedtime to get it. With my kids at 4 and 2 right now, I’m craving quiet and introspection. They are at a really fun age and I love it when they will snuggle me, which they will do with book after book (hygge) or with the TV (not so much). We have a wood burning fireplace and it is sooooooo cozy when we have a fire! We’ve only done so twice! I really want to do that a few more times this winter.
I also finally figured out how to get my own little spot in the house, which is a little writing desk in our sun porch. No one messes it up, or leaves junk on it, or litters it with crumbs. Since it’s very drafty I’ve put on a heater and usually use a blanket and light a little candle in there. (In fact I just got up and moved so I could sit at my little desk).
Speaking of candles, I’ve come to embrace aromas a bit more, but I’m picky. They have to be oh-so-subtle.
One million blankets? Seems that’s yes. 😉
(Ilse) Ooh, quiet! Yes. There is not enough of that in the world and it is so necessary after a busy workday. In the summer, our screened porch is my refuge, and I love to sit outside but out of reach of the mosquitoes. In the winter, I sometimes have difficulty finding quiet in the house and retreat to the library instead.
What would my dream house have that would increase hygge?
(Ilse) A windowseat looking out on the back yard, large enough for 2, or 1 and a very large pile of books. An indoor garden of some type – some houses in warm climates have large planting areas inside the house (but I don’t intend to move for that feature!). Less clutter.
(Kelli) I think I’d live in the country so I could have a big bonfire area, or be outside under the stars. I miss that about my childhood home.
What can I do in my present house to increase hygge?
(Ilse) We actually priced adding a bay window for a windowseat in our living room when we replaced our windows. Since it cost as much as all the other windows together, it was an obvious decision.
I’d like to figure out some way to arrange my houseplants to appear more garden-like. They are all in disparate pots all over the house. I’ve recently seen some articles about houseplants being the new decorating trend, so I’ll look for some ideas. (whoever would have guessed that a small house filled with houseplants would become trendy?)
We could decrease clutter. This is a constant goal and we’ve made a lot of progress. The clutter takes a few predictable forms in our house: books, footwear (particularly in winter), and papers. Happily, decreasing clutter is almost always free except for the time. Here’s where to focus my energy!
(Kelli) I agree with the clutter. It is just such a mental energy suck. Looking around I feel overwhelmed almost all the time, which makes it hard to relax, be present, want to have people over, focus my thoughts on other things. In one aspect, though, I want MORE items – and that’s to have more on the walls. We have had pretty spare walls for a few years after I put my foot down in this house of no “man cave” decor such as our former teeny little home had (vintage Northwoods, but still. SO. MUCH. NORTHWOODS.). I want more family photos, and photos from our trips, and, ok, a few vintage northwoods items would be kinda hyggetastic.
(Ilse) Until I get back to creating a photogenic hygge-ful space, I’m going to channel my inner cat. Sylvester finds hygge everywhere, and he spreads the hygge spirit with his rumbly purr and physical and temperamental warmth. Warm blankets, fireplace, family, book, tea, purrrrrrrrrrrrr.
The sun is poking through the clouds, shining with unusual intensity for a cloudy day directly into our dining room. The house is quiet – only the animals and I are awake. I am sitting at the keyboard, thinking. This is what I wanted more of when I quit that crazy job. Time to just think. It’s been a year now, and that anniversary as well as the lack of padding in our bank account has made me ponder my choice, which still feels right. I’ve never had a job that felt like such a good match to my skills, and because there is room to grow in the organization, I believe that our income situation will improve in time. In the meantime, Mari’s only home for two more years. I want to make those happy years, not two more years with a stressed-to-the-limit mom.
I met my friend Mary to walk and talk yesterday, and our conversation turned to how I have more time now. I definitely do, though its source is not really obvious. One hour of daily work time saving has been given to sleep that I didn’t know I was missing until I felt the resulting change. I am not spending hours each week on a job hunt, as I was for much of 2018. Overall, it’s hard to say whether reduced stress or the changed work environment is the most significant factor.
My previous job required “deep work” for the entire day. Every task, every day, required problem solving in a different situation, resolution in a timely manner, with close to zero tolerance for error. But all day long I was interrupted by someone in person or by phone, text, or page at least every 15 minutes. Sometimes it was something that could have been asked in an email. Sometimes it was production staff asking me when I would be done using some equipment (I managed to never say, “Sooner if you stop interrupting me.”). Sometimes it was actually something urgent. Every day when I came home, my brain was exhausted – and then I would still continue to receive texts and emails and ponder unsolved issues, often in the middle of the night. My coworkers were similarly stressed, which multiplied the effect.
Now, I am still interrupted for most of the day, but I have at least an hour every morning with close to zero interruptions. The deep work I do comes in concentrated bursts, and there is no manufacturing urgency. When I leave for the day, I am done. I don’t have to make tentative weekend plans around the possibility of being called in to fix something. I have mental energy left in the evenings to learn new things, to begin creative projects, and, most importantly, to be available to my family in more than robot mode.
It is still difficult to catch up with friends due to everyone’s different schedules and time demands, but when I do, I can to settle in and enjoy the time, rather than being stressed about what I’m not getting done. Yesterday, Mary and I walked for an hour on a day with weather that can only be described as perfect (yes, in January!). Both the outdoor time in the sunshine and the discussion were therapeutic.
So, life is very good, but there is some threat of financial strain. To minimize that I will be renewing my focus on frugality, continuing to seek ways of saving on a regular basis. My budgeting approach is somewhat casual except for one rule, which covers just about everything: don’t spend if it’s not necessary or if it’s not in line with family priorities. (I have a formal budget in a spreadsheet, but I don’t look at it very often… it helps that I have a strong memory for numbers.) Our default when something is necessary is to first consider if something else can be substituted or repurposed, which results in many fun creative experiments and a lot of learning. I was considering some sort of formal budget challenge, but after reviewing expenses from the past year, think that I would rather just focus on that one rule, and allow that energy to go to new learning instead.
Is frugality part of your simple living path?
What tools do you use to maintain a frugal lifestyle when there are so many anti-frugal influences every day?
So, Xmas. Another December 25th has come and gone. I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I did and did not embody some of my personal values this season. I’d love to hear the same from you in the comments!
Less waste & reducing consumerism
- Bought some secondhand plastic toys rather than buying new.
- Several gifts given and received were things we needed anyway, just maybe with the fun factor ratcheted up a bit – superhero undies, for example.
- Conscious effort to restrain what we bought our kids knowing our lovely family would shower them with goodies.
- Laying the groundwork long ago that secondhand gifts would be welcome and enjoyed – extended family gifted some secondhand items as well.
- Several consumables given and received – candy, candles, bath bombs.
- About 1/2 the gifts wrapped in reusable wrapping – gift bags, drawstring bags, tins, etc.
- Paper plates and non-recyclable plastic cups for our holiday hosting.
- Went kinda hog wild on Black Friday.
- The other 1/2 or so of the gifts wrapped in throwaway paper.
Family togetherness & connection aka FUN
- Attended and enjoyed Xmas Eve at my BILs. Brought the Santa suit along for my 4 yo to wear and his 9 mo cousin sat on his lap. Hilarity.
- Had my side over to our house for Xmas Day. Made a fire and made s’mores in the fireplace. Had a bunch of favorite desserts and foods. People felt they could arrive well ahead of lunch – surprising me a bit, but happy they feel at home in our home.
- None here yet!
Egalitarian workload – emotional labor and otherwise
I’m trying not to own every detail of our married life. It’s hard, because it’s easier for my husband to let me do that, and often easier for me just to do it. Add the invisible societal expectations around it and it just seems like a no brainer to be “in charge” of Xmas. But I don’t want it to be all me. So I’m working on that. (P.S. I always feel I have to give the caveat that my husband is very active in home life. But the fact that I feel this way says that it’s still a force at work if I even have to point that out: “Hey! But my husband is an amazing anomaly!”)
- Refused to be the gatekeeper of the number or types of gifts for the children.
- Created a shared gift idea list in the app we use for sharing our grocery shopping list.
- Sent suggestions for what I wanted in my stocking. I guess that was kind of providing emotional labor though. But I was happy with what I got. LOL
- Co-planned Xmas hosting, using co-developed lists to communicate tasks and check them off.
- Not extending more emotional labor than necessary when my brother waited until the last minute to obtain a contribution for Xmas Day and didn’t feel he could find what I suggested and wanted further discussion and suggestions. So I told him whatever he wanted or nothing at all.
- Constantly having to pay attention to this.
- Having to set up the things like shared lists like the gift ideas in the first place – and then to find out the other day he didn’t even know I’d shared it.
- Coordinating/reminding/hounding my immediate family to declare what they would contribute on Christmas Day.
- Husband declared that he would not ever be texting anyone on our babysitter list (developed by me, of course) because he doesn’t want to be creepy.
- Total abandonment of sending Xmas cards or even electronic greetings. Just too hard this year.
Honoring the spirit of the season
I feel I have few wins in this area outside of the family time stuff. To me, this value is about giving to the broader community (didn’t, despite my best intentions) and engaging in worship or acknowledgement of the birth of Christ (ahem, a big fat zero in this area). The best I did was to get a few of my families from school included into the schools Giving Tree, ones who hadn’t been included in the program previously. So, big room to grow in this area.
How about you, dearies? If you are a celebrant, are you happy with how you honored your selves and your beloveds this holiday?
The first year that I sent my own holiday greetings, I hand-wrote individual letters to everyone. It was before our marriage, before our parenthood, and before my career burnout. And even then, it was too much.
I love a good handwritten letter, and I still send them – Continue reading “Simple Annual Greetings”
This year, since the loss of my mother, who was the queen of holidays, I working on changing up our holiday celebrations. I have so many wonderful, glowing memories of her over-the-top celebrations. I truly enjoyed every one of them, but I am not my mother. She greatly enjoyed every bit of time and energy she put into our holiday celebrations, so the work was not a burden to her, but a joy. When I became a mom, for many years I tried to keep my childhood holiday traditions, the things my mother enjoyed doing, and add to them the parts that I enjoyed doing. I ended up pretty overwhelmed. This year, I’m working on simplifying Thanksgiving by paring it back to the things that are enjoyable to the people actually celebrating this year.
Farming it out
My mom did not love to cook. She loved to decorate, do crafts, and shop for holiday supplies. She loved to set a tablescape fit for royalty, and have every little detail in place. She was willing to make the basics, but she did a lot of what she called “assembling” when it came to food. She knew the places to buy the best baked goods, appetizers, cheeses and desserts. She didn’t feel any pressure to make everything from scratch herself. I do love to cook, but I’m in a phase of life where trying to make everything myself is anything but a recipe for a happy holiday. This year, I am planning on buying some of the pies from a church fundraiser. I’m buying Pillsbury crescent rolls instead of making my own.
Sharing the Load
In part because my mom didn’t love cooking the way I do, she had no problem asking other people to do their part. My dad did as much of the cooking as my mom did, and I was contributing to the feast by the time I was 10. I loved it. This year I assigned each kid a dish. Cheyenne made the green bean casserole the Saturday before, and Bella made the mashed potatoes. James made the sweet potato casserole, and I made the stuffing. Bella volunteered to do a baking activity, and help the little girls make pumpkin and sweet cream pies. Zach is in charge of the turkey, Travis will make the crescent rolls and my dad will bring the cranberries. The kids are excited to show off their contributions, and I am less stressed. Bella loves to decorate, so she wants to take care of the table.
If it doesn’t look like a magazine shoot, that’s fine with me. The point is for our family to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Anything that takes away from that is not something we need in our celebration. Having teenagers now, I’m always surprised when they talk about things they did when they were little that seemed like no big deal to me, but made a big impact on them. It’s amazing how little we really need to be happy.