Clutter as personalization

Posted in simple living with tags , on 02/09/2015 by Fox

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.
~Paul McCartney

I’ve been following Apartment Therapy for a while now. There are some good ideas for updating old spaces and making do with small homes. It can also be incredibly frustrating…especially when their more generous ideas of “budget” (a $50 planter, really?) and mine don’t line up.

Something I have noticed on AT is the tendency for some people to equate a lack of clutter with a lack of personality. Considering even these spaces can be “junky” by my standards, these people would HATE my house.

I think it’s a reaction to their own home, though. They want to see other homes with junk because their house has junk. I’ve been told that people over time just amass junk, and there’s nothing I can do and I should just embrace it. Some people don’t understand how someone could live in a house without clutter. I don’t know how they live with it (or how I did, for that matter).

It may also be a defense mechanism. Rather than deal with the junk, they embrace it as adding personality. “Without it, my house would be sterile and lifeless.” Sure, but I don’t want to dust around a bunch of crap, I hate dusting. It’s much harder to get rid of the clutter or not buy it than it is to keep it around and keep adding to it.

Different strokes for different folks, of course, but I do wonder how many of these people would rather live without the stuff they have? Do they fantasize about their house burning down so they can start fresh? Or do they genuinely love all the bullshit they’ve got?


Is energy consumption decreasing?

Posted in green living with tags , on 02/05/2015 by Fox

I have witnessed the tremendous energy of the masses. On this foundation it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever.
~Mao Zedong

My utility company sends me a community blurb sheet every month with my bill. Usually events, it inevitably also has “tips for saving energy!” This month, it had a short, bulleted list that claimed (and I’m regretting tossing the thing now, as I paraphrase) that Texans were using less energy now than we were in 1965. No citation, of course.

So I went digging through the internets. Nothing specific to Texas, but American energy consumption was down for both 2012 and 2011, although still increased from 2002. No indication of what 2013 and 2014 were like, thanks, Outdated Wikipedia Page. Somehow I think Texas wasn’t down to pre-1965 levels.

Australia, too, has experienced decreasing consumption since 2010.

Part of me thinks this is pretty cool, while the other part of me reminds all of me that worldwide consumption is still on the rise as “developing” nations get on board with the cool kids. And there’s also the ugly fact that America outsources some production to countries that don’t have the energy standards they’d be forced to contend with domestically. I doubt outsourcing is to blame for the decrease in consumption, but it is something to remind oneself. My shoes were not made in America, and the energy consumed to produce them isn’t counted as American consumption.

Here’s hoping we continue to see decreases in energy consumption, and that we export efficiency along with our culture.

Etsy and Kickstarter and Patreon, oh my!

Posted in simple living on 01/30/2015 by Fox

The Internet is probably the most important technological advancement of my lifetime. Its strength lies in its open architecture and its ability to allow a framework where all voices can be heard.
~Adam Savage

The internet is a magical place.

It’s also full of financial landmines. I have a love/hate relationship with Etsy. It has the best things I shouldn’t be spending money on. But at the same time, if I want something unique, knowing that the purchase goes to support a Real Live Human Being is pretty fucking sweet. There are also Real Live Human Beings on Amazon and Ebay, too, (I know, I am one of them, thank you random people with enough disposable income to purchase a fucking outdoor umbrella light, an object I didn’t know existed until two of them fell in my lap), but Etsy seems to have a higher percentage. Craigslist, too, although that’s more local, less crafty, and equally prone to horror.

I better avoid temptation with Kickstarter. Most of what’s on there is crap I’m not remotely interested in, but I do like the concept. People have ideas and need funding, and a mass of human beings votes yay or nay like judges watching gladiators. No suited execs with preconceived notions of “what people want” to muck shit up. The people have made their desires known, and they desire a card game about kittens accidentally exploding themselves. I have a hard time imagining a system more democratic than that.

Except someone did make a system more democratic than that and it’s called Patreon. I’m not funding anyone yet, as the monthly donation thing would irritate my need to have things over and done. Usually if I donate to a project or person I prefer a larger lump sum than a monthly hemorrhage. There is one guy out there who could get me onto the Patreon bandwagon despite that, though. But damn, it’s so much more than Kickstarter. Less emphasis on getting crap, and more people just saying “I like this and want it to continue and am willing to shell out to make this happen,” and that’s fucking amazing. The two Patreons I have looked at seem to be doing outstanding by my (admittedly low) standards, and it makes me happy to see people whose work I enjoy getting at least some of what they deserve.

It just blows my mind sometimes to see how game-changing the internet is. From making DIY more accessible to people too cheap to buy home improvement books to funding people ranting about video games, the internet makes possible things that probably would never have been possible otherwise.

((No, I have no intentions of starting a Patreon anytime soon. That sort of thing would require an actual fanbase. I happily accept donations (thank you!) via the Paypal link that should be somewhere on the side bar. Seriously, those of you who have donated, I love you guys.))

What a real minimum wage budget looks like

Posted in simple living with tags , on 01/18/2015 by Fox

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.
~J. K. Rowling

I’m far too late to discuss McDonald’s idiocy regarding what it’s like to make minimum wage. But I want to touch on it a little, anyway.

I should start off by saying that I don’t believe raising the minimum wage is going to do shit. The issue is systemic and requires a top-down solution that would go against American cultural and political ideals.

The budget I’m about to set down is an approximation of the budget I used for several years while hauling my ass out of debt. I’ve no doubt forgotten some of the exact details, but it should get the idea across to anyone who hasn’t been stuck in a dead-end minimum-wage job for years. Keep in mind, too, that this is a budget set in Texas. In this area, we have very low cost-of-living. I also had a roommate with whom to split rent and utilities. We did not live in a nice apartment, but it wasn’t in the ghetto. I worked two jobs, sometimes as much as fourteen hours a day, and I did not utilize any form of community assistance or welfare programs.

Job 1: $800/mnth
Job 2: $200/mnth

Monthly budget:
Rent: $250
Utilities: $50
Car note: $300
Car insurance: $50
Food, clothing, cat supplies, gas, toiletries, fun money, etc: $200
Emergency fund/Debt reduction: $150

I did not have health insurance. Buying clothing, going to the movies, or taking the cats to the vet removed money straight out of my food budget.

This is not fucking sustainable. Even with my emergency fund, a sudden serious issue could have ruined me. As you can imagine, selling possessions or Christmas gifts isn’t a solution. I was already eating less.

I got lucky in that my second job was willing to take me on full-time and, in time, pay me a living wage (or what is a living wage when you’ve become as frugal as I). The worst part of living on a minimum wage budget is the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that come with that sort of life. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the beginning fades, and eventually it’s dark all around and you don’t feel you’re making progress. You could be going backward for all you can tell.

And as long as the people at the top are willing to alienate and exploit those at the bottom, raising the minimum wage will do nothing. Prices will rise to match, and a living minimum wage will never be achieved.

Slow home updating and the dangers of Craigslist

Posted in simple living with tags , on 01/11/2015 by Fox

Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.
~Calvin Coolidge

There are benefits to doing nearly all your home updates yourself. Aside from learning how to do minor updates and home repairs, it limits the amount of work I can do. Updates are spaced farther out, meaning I have time to think, consider, and find the light fixture I’m looking for used at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore instead of new at IKEA.

On the other hand, not having my emergency fund where I want it to be (it’ll get there eventually), means that I can’t snag the interior doors I saw for sale on Craigslist. They’re relatively new, matching, with hardware attached. They’re damn nice doors and the cost/benefit ratio on them is very high. New door hardware is an eventual part of the house update, and while I intend on having all the interior doors painted white (and some of them are right now), the paint does get nicked and scratched easily.

However, they’re two hours from my house, I don’t have a truck, and buying all I need would cost about $400. They’re a steal, yes, but I can’t afford to drop $400+ on doors and truck rental when my emergency fund is still dangerously low. It doesn’t matter how nice they are or how much value they would bring.

I live in a college town. There will be more doors on Craigslist. I’ve seen many already, although not in sufficient quantity and without hardware. Hell, I’m still hoping the one apartment complex will get back to me about that stove they’re selling. EXCUSE ME, SIR, YOU’RE SELLING MY STOVE. They may have a fridge, too, and maybe if I get both I can sweet talk them into dropping them off at my house so I don’t have to borrow a truck. Is it the stove I want? Fuck no. People have this crazy idea that they need a full size stove and fridge and I need one about three-quarter size. But the stove I want is $400 and the hole my existing stove sits in would be too big for a three-quarter stove, anyway. Same with the fridge. A 10 cubic foot fridge is $400 because it has to be new. A 14 cubic foot fridge is easily found used. I’ll just have to suck it up.

That’s not including the people who suddenly come out of the woodwork when you buy a house and give you things. A rug, a kitchen faucet (a bad color, but I’m considering just spray painting the bastard and installing it anyway), I refused the under cabinet lighting because it didn’t fit and I don’t have the wiring for it. I’ve been offered no fewer than three gas stoves. Too bad I need electric. I’ve been promised a fridge should I not find one myself. It’d be nice if someone could give me about 1200 sq. ft. of laminate flooring. I’d like that.

Toyota’s Scion iQ: The next generation of pretentious car ownership

Posted in green living with tags on 01/04/2015 by Fox

The cars we drive say a lot about us.
~Alexandra Paul

I’ve discussed smart’s fortwo before. I found it wanting, honestly, with a price and fuel efficiency that were only marginally better than the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. Not enough to justify tooling around in a two-seater that can barely hold your groceries.

But now Toyota itself is offering their latest conspicuously pretentious car, the Scion iQ. Don’t ask me how the guy in the promo photo is going to be able to fit those plants in that car. It’s basically the smart fortwo all over again, except that in keeping with the conspicuousness, it’s priced between two and three thousand more than the fortwo, the Versa Note, and the Yaris. It jumps to five grand more than the Versa sedan.

Like the fortwo, the fuel efficiency is pretty much on par with the subcompact class. The Versa advertises a whopping 40 mpg highway (my own Versa Note gets about 36 highway, with an average 30-33 combined), which is the highest advertised for any of these cars. Honestly, at this point the difference between the EPA estimate and the reality is greater than the mpg difference between the individual cars.

But ultimately, it comes down to a desire to look good over a desire to have a functional vehicle. I hauled an eleven-foot baseboard home in my Versa Note a couple weeks ago (yes, part of it was sticking out the back, but not much), and I regularly surprise people with just how much shit you can fit into a hatchback. I paid less, I get comparable efficiency, and I can haul shit like I’m rocking an El Camino. The only reason I see for the Scion iQ and the smart fortwo is the pretentious factor. They’re like giant, wheeled hybrid badges. LOOK AT ME, I GIVE A SHIT AND DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT PRACTICALITY.

Just paying the bills isn’t enough

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 01/01/2015 by Fox

I’m working so I won’t have to try so hard
Tables, they turn sometimes
~The Strokes, “Someday”

My co-worker just wants “to make enough money to cover the bills.”

In my mind, that’s the attitude that will get you where my mother is right now. Working and working and working with no light at the end of the tunnel. My co-worker also said that she doesn’t want to buy an old house, because of all the hard work she hears another co-worker and I doing to update our own houses. (Which is hilarious, given how much work my bosses have done to their far newer homes. Don’t like work? Stick with apartments.)

Buying this house and updating it is, to me, integral to my ultimate financial goals. Rather than locking me into a mortgage, it frees me up a bit financially. I have a second bedroom to rent out, should things go south, and once the major updates are complete, the value of this home will increase in case I do need to sell. My “rent” will not go up (aside from property taxes and insurance), and honestly, I’m paying only a touch more than I would for a decent apartment. The only reason my rent was cheaper than my mortgage before was simply due to the shitty nature of the places I was renting. My last apartment didn’t even have hot water in the kitchen, and only barely had it in the bath.

I also honestly enjoy tinkering about with the house. I have a FUCKING AWESOME backyard that will be even more awesome when I have the funds to xeriscape it properly (I’m lazy and don’t plant anything that can’t survive on its own). Part of the appeal of an older home is getting to learn how to do minor electrical work, how to patch drywall, how to nail in baseboards without a nail gun, and other nifty things. My own labor is far cheaper than someone else’s. The exception is painting. I hate painting.

But the house is Step One in my ultimate takeover of the world (or at least my part of the neighborhood). In a couple more years I anticipate beginning to save up the down payment to buy either one of the neighboring units and thus hopefully have a second income independent of my day job (in addition to controlling the occupants of said units). This takes more than “just paying the bills.” It takes foresight, and planning, and hard fucking work. Retirement funds also take foresight, planning, and either more hard work, or a willingness to go without.

I’m working so I don’t have to try so hard. Tables, they turn sometimes. Don’t I fucking know it.