Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Year Winter Came Back

Winter is back this year with a vengeance and I know we Buckeyes aren't the only ones caught in another brutal spell of cold and snow. Living in the northern U.S. (Ohio), you might think we're used to this kind of winter weather, but this one is extreme. We haven't seen temperatures this cold in 28 years, according to local meteorologists. And we're most accustomed to seeing snow come and go in 24-48 hours, but this year the snow is sticking around.

Winter started unusually early. Our first snowfall was a few days before Thanksgiving, with three inches of snow falling well before the December 21 official start of winter. This weekend we received another five inches with a bit more to come possibly. The wind was so strong yesterday that at times you could barely see the house across the street. So far this season we've received 26.5 inches of snow, with months of winter to come, compared to average winter snowfalls of 27.5 inches. Snow is pretty and all, but it is also a giant pain to shovel, drive in, etc.

yesterday's blowing snow made it hard to see across the street

But the really painful bit of this winter, to me at least, has been the number record low temperatures and below zero wind chill days. The worst so far being January 6 and 7, where we saw a new record low of -7F (-22C) and wind chills of -25 to -40F (-32 to -40C). And they're calling for it to be even colder than that tomorrow and Tuesday, with an extended period of extreme cold slated to last until mid-February. Mid-February? Seriously? It's sad that our usual January average of 30F feels like a heatwave in comparison.

Living in a house built in the 1940s means that even though the inside temperature remains unchanged at 68F, or even a degree higher, it definitely feels chilly on extremely cold days. I layer up with a long sleeve shirt, my warmest sweater, socks, slippers, a blanket and often a cat and still sometimes can't get warm and toasty. I've put extra blankets and pulled the cat bed out of storage so they have plenty of warmer sleeping options. And forget going outside without my warmest parka, a hat, gloves, a scarf and boots. Even then my block-long walk from the parking garage to work is brutal.

cold weather makes the cats extra cuddly

This winter has also meant a lot of hibernating, which can be fun for a weekend or two but can get old when you feel like you can't, or shouldn't, go out.

While these temps seem newsworthy today, it's only because we're not used to cold snaps which were considered normal in the past, according to Treehugger. While I worry about the consequences of global warming, not dealing with this crap every year doesn't seem all bad...

How are you faring in this weather (or for some of you, the record heat waves)?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Serial Decluttering

Magazines are cheap, published monthly and designed for limited use, so why do I and many others hang on to so many?

In the age of blogs and online decorating sites, does anyone even need  to keep magazines anyway? Yet, there is something I enjoy about a shiny new decor mag.

I've decluttered my magazine collection many times, maybe more than any other item, yet I still count 48 magazines in my current collection. I've culled my magazine subscriptions down to zero, then added a subscription or two that I missed back in. I've tried getting my magazine fix at the library only, which I found to be more trouble than it's worth.

First, the non-negotiables. I have 27 issues of the discontinued Domino (25) and Cottage Living (2) magazines that I'm still not able to part with. At one point those Dominos were almost worth their cover price on ebay, although prices seem to have peaked and dropped like a rock since then.

endtable magazine storage
I find the "William Morris criteria" (That is, Morris' famous quote to "Have nothing in you home that you do not that find to be useful or know to be beautiful"), to be helpful for deciding what to cull or keep. Accordingly, I should probably declutter them all, as I don't really look at the magazines often or consider them particularly useful. But, I'm not willing to do so. I don't need the space they take up and I like having them, for whatever reason. Maybe outing myself on the blog will change this as it has before, but for now, they stay.

That still leaves 21 magazines up for grabs. After one last flip through 3/4 of them I let 12 go, which is enough to eliminate one stack under the coffee table. A 25% reduction isn't too bad, I guess.

Do you find it hard to let go of magazines or have another decluttering weakspot?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Small, Stylish and Low-Maintenance: Lustron Homes

The idea of well-designed, small homes taking less time to maintain while being just as pleasant to live in is not a new one. Lately I've been fascinated by one such example from years past: Lustron houses. These prefabricated enameled steel houses were developed in the post-World War II era. Marketed as "the house America has been waiting for" the small, yet well-designed homes were promoted as affordable, low-maintenance solutions for modern families.

The Lustron Company, headquartered in my town, Columbus, OH, manufactured just under 2,500 two- and three-bedroom homes between 1948-1950, before declaring bankruptcy. This was much less than expected, with production delays, the lack of a viable distribution strategy, and the escalating prices for the finished product all contributing to the company's demise.

Four Lustron homes remain in my neighborhood, and this summer I was able to fully explore the one pictured here, which is on display at the Ohio Historical Society until 2018.

master bedroom vanity
The exhibit was fantastic, and one I highly recommend if you're in Columbus. Not only is it amazing to have a entire house inside a museum, but the decor is completely period and they encourage you to explore, open drawers, etc. Or you can take a video tour.

Although compact and built to be shipped in pieces and assembled on-site, the rooms were a good size (bigger than my house anyway) and surprisingly full of storage. There was a built in bookshelf/display area in the living room, tons of closets, a built-in vanity in the master bedroom, and great bathroom storage. Plus, since they're constructed from metal, hanging a picture is as simple as throwing up some magnets.

The Lustron house exhibit was also appointed with something I've never heard of before, a Thor Automagic hybrid washer/dishwasher. Now there's something that makes me go hmmm, and I guess it made a lot of other people do the same since it never really caught on.

If you're curious about how Lustron homes appear with current decor, check out this Columbus-area Lustron.

As cute and cool as they are, I'm not sure I would want to live in a Lustron, especially as their advanced age takes away the low-maintenance aspect in many cases. Could you live in a Lustron, or is there another small home from an era gone by you lust after?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A year's worth of clothes

A few of my go-to looks - NOT! Photo: Hegemony777

According to Elizabeth Cline's book, Overdressed, the average US shopper spends $1,100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes.

Sixty-eight items per year seems rather shocking, but since reading that I've wondered, do I buy more or less clothing than the average American? Yet I hadn't gotten around to listing my purchases until being inspired by a recent post on Exacting Life.

Before I started counting, I thought that I couldn't possibly have purchased more than 10 items of clothing this year. I have a large existing wardrobe, but there is much room for improvement as it includes items of various sizes and clothing I don't love wearing.

I've never loved buying clothes and shoes like the stereotypical woman, but this has been particularly light year even for me. This is mainly because I'm at a higher weight than I'd like and I haven't wanted to admit defeat and invest in a larger wardrobe for this size me. But, a girl's gotta have something to wear so in the end I've bought some new items.

Items purchased in 2013:

  • Two pairs of dress pants for work: $55
  • Black knit blazer for work (the only blazer I've ever liked wearing - it's SO comfortable): $36
  • black and white summer sweater: $28
  • Two black t-shirts: $14
  • Black and white shell blouse: $21
  • Black summer sweater: $22
  • Black knit top: $15
  • Black shirt with beaded sleeves: $16
  • Black NYC shirt: $9
  • Blue sweater: $21
  • Jeans: $27
  • Peach sweater from thrift store: $4
  • White capris (thrift-store): $4
  • Black comfty flats for work: $64
  • Black sandals: $54
Total spent: $390
Total items: 17

Accessories purchased:
  • Black purse (thrift-store): $5
  • Red purse: $30
  • Scarf: $22
Total spent: $57
Total items: 3

Besides the fact that I'm heavily in a black and white clothing phase (they're slimming colors you know), this has been a pretty good year in that out of these purchases, I really only regret and don't wear the peach thrift store sweater.

I don't set a clothing budget, as I'm pretty good at reigning in my spending month to month. I'm completely fine with spending $447 on clothing and accessories for the year, in fact, I'd be okay with twice that provided I bought items I love and feel great wearing. 

How does your clothing spending compare to the average?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Myths of the American Dream: Part I

One idea that is continually spoken as fact is that home ownership is always a sound investment. Renters are perceived as throwing their money away, while home owners are building equity!

Home ownership is the expected thing, the thing many aspire too. It's what you're supposed to do.

Often, I'm not sure if home ownership is all it's cracked up to be. Never was, but I bought this little house anyway. I wouldn't say I regret it, exactly, but I think you really have to make sure you know what you're getting into before you buy. Heck, before you go to an open house and fall in love with a property even.

About that throwing away money on rent...let's just look at the numbers shall we?

First, if I take the full 30 years to pay off my mortgage, I'll end up paying more than double the purchase price, and that's WITH a heavy 20% down payment. It would take more than two years of my entire current salary to pay the interest alone.

My mortgage may equal what I paid in rent before I bought this house (which is only because I bought a tiny house), but consider that I'm paying double that with interest and then add an extra 40% for property taxes.

I haven't even gotten to maintenance yet. If you own a home then eventually something is going to break or need replaced. And sooner or later than something is going to be expensive.

The day I signed the purchase papers and got the keys to my house I came over and found a leaking faucet, a roof leak in the kitchen  and a leak in the furnace room. none of these things were there a few days prior. Luckily, with some help from my stepdad, none of them were very expensive, but still you get my point. In the seven years I've owned min hus I've paid for chimney repairs (twice), replaced the AC/furnace, repaired the roof, replaced the hot water heater, bought two dehumidifiers for the basement, and spent hundreds of dollars on paint, painting supplies, tools, sandpaper, and miscellaneous repair expenses. If I hadn't had lots of kind help in making those repairs (thanks boyfriend!!, stepdad!) it would have cost three times as much. And I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

Have I mentioned the lawn and garden equipment I never had to own as a renter? Or all the projects that still
need to be done?

Call me a pessimist, but with the drop in home values I don't see how I'm going to get all that back if I sell anytime soon....and probably not when I sell it no matter how long away that may be.

Why is paying rent "throwing money away," but paying interest, taxes and maintenance aren't?

Don't get me wrong, if you want to own your home for other reasons then great. If you want something to call your own, decorate as you like it, by all means. Maybe you enjoy DIY and maintenance, and in that case, boy will you love owning a home! Buy an old one for extra fun. Just don't buy a home because you think it's an investment or something adults do.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dishing the Dirt on Cleaning

Chiot's Run on flickr

I've been thinking a lot about average cleaning habits, although it's harder to find stats on Americans cleaning habits than I would have guessed, at least on the net. I found one stat (albeit from a robotic vacuum seller) that says 45% of women vacuum every 2-4 days.

Most of the time, I don't mind cleaning, but what I really love is having a clean home. I like my home so much more when it's clean and tidy, in fact when I'm feeling down on the place giving it a good clean is the first step to improving my mood. It's a lot easier for me to relax and enjoy when the house it clean. Some people, including the boyfriend, would call me a neatfreak, but I'm pretty sure Martha Stewart and her ilk would not find my home up to snuff.

I have a lower tolerance for clutter I can see (behind closed doors or squirreled away where I can't see it is another story) than dirt, although I don't like either. I give the place a general once-over every week, but beyond that I'm much more likely to declutter than deep-clean. I ALWAYS clean before company comes over no matter how recently I last cleaned.

I wasn't always this way. I remember being constantly nagged to clean my room when I was little. Sometime during my late teen years things began to change and I began cleaning more than my mother, at least at certain jobs. 

While my home looks pretty clean, especially on the weekends, if you look closer you'll see that I'm less stringent about moving and cleaning under big furniture, waxing the floors (and heck, mopping them), scrubbing walls and the shower, and washing curtains.

When I was an au pair in Scandinavia I found out what a heavy cleaning schedule was like. Maybe it's because they had hired help to do it, but I had to vacuum and dust the entire house 3x per week; mop all the floors, wash doors, moldings and door handles once per week; wipe down all cabinet and pantry shelves, and completely clean out the fridge once per month.

I'm curious: what's your cleaning routine and who takes care of what chores in your household? I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours... 

-I sweep, dust and clean the bathroom (but, um, not always the shower) once per week
-mopping is done twice a month or so, the kitchen floor more so
-sheets and towels are washed weekly, sheets sometimes stretch to two weeks
-litter-boxes are cleaned daily, mostly by the boyfriend
-dishes are done as-needed in the dishwasher, but some pots and things are hand-washed only
-walls and baseboards are washed 1-2 times per year, more in the bathroom
-curtains are washed when they get really bad. Usually 2-3 times per year
-a little tidying is done every day, but the main cleaning, like vacuuming and dusting is done on the weekends.
-I use mostly greener cleaners: microfiber cloths for dusting (no spray), vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, bleach cleaner once every month or two on the shower.
-most hated cleaning chore: scrubbing the shower. It needs renovating and never looks clean no matter how much you scrub.

As mentioned before, I live in a pretty small house, so if I'm motivated and the stuff is fairly picked up, I can do a routine clean in 90 minutes or so. If I add in mopping, laundry, cleaning up the cats areas, taking out trash, and just generally poke around, as I usually do, it expands to two to three hours on Saturday morning, or afternoon.

Is this routine adequate? In general, yes, although with three cats and two shedding adults, this place can get hairy and the floors messy. I think a second vacuum mid-week would make a big difference in cleanliness levels and my happiness, so I'm going to try that out and see how it goes. I wish the clutter and STUFF didn't pile up as it tends to at times, but that's life I guess.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Clothing Inventory

this closet and dresser make up the majority of the bedroom clothing storage

Last night, after browsing clothing inventories on several blogs, including An Exacting Life and Live to List, I immediately wanted to get up and start counting my clothes. I managed to wait until this morning to get started.

It turns out that I have 256 major items of clothing, including tops, bottoms, coats and shoes. This total doesn't include accessories, under clothes, or pajamas. I think I'd be fine with that total if I liked and wore everything, or even most of these things, but that number includes at least 60 (gulp) items in various sizes that I can't currently wear and yet am not ready to admit total defeat in ever wearing again (obviously mostly smaller clothes).

Clothing Inventory

Tops - 154
t-shirts: 42
long sleeve t-shirts: 19
works shirts & blouses: 30
tanks: 5
sweatshirts: 6
sweaters: 44
blazers: 6
work polos: 2

Bottoms - 73
jeans: 9
shorts: 19
dress pants: 32
exercise clothes: 8
skirts: 5

Misc. - 29
Coats: 5
Swimsuits: 3

shoes: 21

Total: 256

All of these clothes and too often I still feel like I have nothing to wear!

my side of the overflow closet is rather stuffed at the moment

More than half of the items are stored in the tiny 1940s closet and two dressers that are in the bedroom. A little less than half--mainly out-of-season items and ones that don't fit--are stored in our largest closet, which is inconveniently located in the basement. Some extras are stored in two dressers in the attic. These are several suits I have, which were fairly expensive when I bought them long ago, that I will never wear again. I keep thinking I should sell them online and get something out of them rather than donating them, but I'm really not sure it's worth the hassle.

Out of these 256 items of clothing, six were purchased from thrift stores. And while that total is low, it's definitely the most items I've ever had from a thrift store. I find it challenging enough to find clothes I like at new clothing stores where there is a greater selection of styles and sizes, at thrift stores it's almost impossible for me.

While doing this inventory I found four items of clothing I am going to donate, plus one for the rag pile, so I'm downsizing already!

Where do I go from here? 
I think my goal will be to keep my total under 250 items of clothing for now, so for anything new I buy something must go. I'm fine with having clothes that fit the storage space I have, but I want to work on only keeping items that make me feel good to wear, plus some size cushions since I fluctuate a fair bit.

Have you ever done an inventory of your clothing? How much is too much for you?


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