Saturday, September 12, 2020

Squeezing an office in a small space

Like many people, I've been working from home since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the most part I prefer it. There's no commute, fewer meetings, fewer distractions. Plus, it's quiet, which I need since my job involves a lot of writing.

So instead for the first 4.5 months I worked on a laptop from the couch and kitchen table. The window views were nice, but the cats didn't seem to appreciate having to share the table (it looks out onto the birdfeeder and is their favorite window hangout). Eventually the lack of ergonomics took a toll and in early August I knew I had to make a change.But there was one issue--lack of a proper workspace. Because I live in the 740-square-foot house, I don't have the luxury of a separate home office. The spare room used to be set up as an office, but gets much more use as a bedroom. I didn't want to set up a desk in the living room, where I'd see it all the time, or the basement.

My new co-workers do not enjoy sharing their space.

I measured a corner of the spare room and it was big enough for a small desk. I shopped for desks online, but everything I liked in my budget was out of stock. Plus, I wasn't sure I'd like working in a separate area, facing a wall no less.

I went up to the attic and measured the old IKEA desk to see if it would work temporarily, but it was even bigger than I remembered. The boyfriend insisted it would fit if we'd rearranged all of the furniture in the room, but it was going to be a tight squeeze and that's what I'd been trying to avoid.

Office with bookshelf, desk and chair
Office circa 2007

Luckily I found another solution--my old kitchen table that first belong to my great-grandparents. My mom said my great-grandpa Gordon used to clean fish on it. So it's hardly a priceless antique, but I like it anyway. 

A table with two cats sitting on it.
This old table has been well--used for generations.

Luckily the boyfriend had already refinished and restained it, so it was ready to go. I repurposed a chair and rug I already had and--voila--a free work from home space. The only new thing I added is a chair pad, which was a gift. 

My new, repurposed work space.

It's advice we've all heard, but having a dedicated work space really has made a difference. It's easier to sit down, focus and be productive. Then at the end of the day, I can pack it up and leave work behind.

A large cat sit on the desk next to a laptop
Of course the cats still insist on "helping" me work at times.

Best of all, the rooms doesn't feel crowded at all and still functions as a bedroom. So if you too are struggling to find work space at home, try carving out some room for a small desk. It might be just what you need.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Farewell, Garden Kitty

This is Garden Kitty, GC for short. He lives down the street, but spends most of his time outside.

He's extremely friendly and sweet, and seems to crave attention even more than food. So we gave him both. 

I didn't know his real name, but started calling him Garden Kitty because he liked to keep me company while I gardened. He would hang out and occasionally come over to be pet or to pounce on something that moved enough to catch his attention. He loved to play and would chase sticks, or vines or even long plants. He was great company and made chore time more fun. Often he would be on the deck waiting for us first thing in the morning and would come back after we returned home from work. 

He was extremely curious and before locking the garage up we had to make sure he wasn't still in there exploring. He had no fear. There was the time I went outside to scare away the deer that GC was slowly creeping up on as if he were going to pounce on it. Or the squirrel that he came *this close* to catching and instead swatted on the behind as it leaped away.

Sometimes he was a bit of a pain. Like when I was trying to hoeing weeds and he kept trying to rake against my hoe and pounce where I was working. I was afraid I would accidentally hurt him, so I stopped and petted him instead. Or when he camped out on our deck and stressed out our sensitive kitty, possibly contributing to his recent cystitis flare. Or when he scared away the birds from the feeder we hung from the deck to provide entertainment to our three indoor kitties.

But we couldn't be mad at GC. And we couldn't stick to our resolutions to ignore him. He was too sweet of a soul.

We debated if GC was neglected. He was outside most of the time. Early in the morning and late at night. Even on heat warning days when the temperature was 95 and so humid it felt like 105F. He was thin so when he cried for food we started feeding him. So did some of our other neighbors. One down the street called him Friendly Kitty, also an apt description. 

Our next door neighbor worried that he wasn't good around cars. He didn't always look before crossing the street in his excitement to come visit. And unfortunately on Friday, August 2, this habit is what led to his far too-early death when he was hit by a car. 

I know there can be extenuating circumstances that lead people to let their cats outside. But there are so many risks--cruel people, cars, other animals--and their lives tend to be so much shorter than indoor cats. I question if it's worth the risk considering the alternatives of letting them out only with supervision or on a leash or in a catio. 

We miss him and mourn his early passing. I question if I should have done more for him. I know some of our other neighbors have the same thoughts. He deserved more than he was given at home, but he was loved by many.

Farewell GC, you were a very good boy. We won't forget you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

When is it time to upgrade?

It's July 3, the evening before our Independence Day, and many are out celebrating or attending the big fireworks celebration downtown. I however will be asleep soon. Stress wears me out.

What am I stressing out about? My stupid car. It's latest issue is a busted radiator. Lucky for me, the parts are less than $100 and the boyfriend can fix it. So it could be much worse. But it wasn't fun seeing the heat gauge max out this morning. It was even less fun trying to drive it home and pulling over three times on the five mile ride home to let it cool off. Not to mention the boyfriend had to come check it out mid-way because I was freaking out thinking my car might explode.

Photo: Carlyle Ellis Photography/Human Quotient
Having the radiator go out isn't unexpected given that my Honda Civic is 19 years old. I mean, how long is a car supposed to last anyway? It does only have 135,000 miles, but as a mechanic friend warned me a few years ago, all of its parts, gaskets, seals, etc. will fail start failing soon.

A lot of things have already broken and already been replace by the boyfriend. He's saved me tons in labor and aggravation over the years (thanks, honey!). So when should I just call it quits?

I came close to doing so last summer. I went car shopping. Narrowed down the make and model to a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. But I was underwhelmed and if I'm going to spend $15-20k, shouldn't I be a little excited about what I'm buying?

I'm also overwhelmed by the options. SUV or car? If I care about the environment, does that mean I should invest more and get a hybrid or electric?

Another problem is I want the latest safety features for a three-year-old-car price. Not gonna happen. In the meantime, my boyfriend spruced up the Civic, painted the peeling trim and plastic hubcaps, and found a deal on tires.

Suddenly it didn't look so bad.

Plus, there's the cost. I haven't had a car payment in 16 years and pay $280/year for insurance. I definitely like that part.

However, I don't like worrying about how I'm getting my broken down car home or how long it will be out of commission. Or having the boyfriend have to spend time fixing it on his limited time off or in winter. And taking long trips in it feels like a gamble.

He says this isn't a big deal and there's not much else that can go bad since most things have been replaced ... except the clutch.

So should it stay or should it go? I can't decide.

What's the oldest vehicle you've had? How do you decide when it's time for a new one?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Finally, curbside recycling!

I found this finished 2018 post in my drafts and decided to go ahead and post it,hopefully it will inspire me to post more! Although recycling has gotten even more complicated these days due to falling demand for materials.

photo: Igor Mazic, flickr
It's 9F and I'm excitedly bundling up to take out the recycling. Why such excitement for a routine chore? Because this is the first time in almost 14 years that I've been able to take recycling to the end of the driveway for pickup instead of having to haul it away

I've been a devoted recycler ever since a college boyfriend inspired me to begin. My little hometown with a population of 35,000 had curbside recycling service way back in 2003, but when I moved to the "big city" of Columbus I had to kiss that service goodbye. That didn't stop me from recycling though. I dutifully saved my recyclables in the basement and then hauled them out once a month or so to pack up the Civic and take them to a drop-off location.

At some point curbside service was offered to city residents, first for a monthly charge and then the free in 2012, but by then I had already purchased the house. While my neighborhood is in the middle of the city of Columbus, we're part of a township. The township has its own trash services, sans recycling. So I continued schlepp the recycling to a drop-off location a few miles away or the boyfriend would take it to the recycling location at work. But it was a pain and something we always put off as long as possible.

Then a few years ago a resolution to add recycling to the township's waste services for less than $10 per year per household was up for a vote. Hooray! For less than $10 per year to each household's trash costs, but to me that was well worth it. Apparently I was soundly in the minority because the measure was soundly defeated, twice.

Then a few months ago, finally good news: our trash contract was being renegotiated to include recycling at no additional cost.  I called the day I received that letter to request a bin and have been counting down to January. Last Saturday I realized said bin had never arrived and I disappointedly figured I'd have to wait a bit longer, and then, what did I see on top of the three inches of snow at the end of the driveway Saturday afternoon but a lovely green recycling bin.

The only bummer is that when I went to collect my bin I looked around and didn't see another one on the street. And today when I deposited my overflowing bin back at the end of the driveway, it was still the only one in sight. Hopefully that will change tomorrow on pickup day or in the weeks to come.

But the apathy of my neighbors in this working-class neighborhood has got me thinking. If people won't recycle even when all you have to take a bin to the curb, what chances are there that people will make the real changes necessary to avoid environmental disaster?

I can't help thinking back to my time in Denmark in 2000, where it was common place to separate compostable trash from the rest of the rubbish for weekly pick up. Glass and plastic bottles were returned for deposits. Aluminum cans weren't sold there, although you could buy them in neighboring Sweden. Everyone seemed to gladly return, separate and recycle. What would inspire more Americans to do the same?

I know recycling isn't a panacea, but in the meantime it seems much better to recycle what we can instead of filling up the landfills.

Is recycling popular in your area? Do you recycle? Why or why not?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Organizing Drawers the KonMarie Way

There's not much decluttering going on these days, but today I decided to finally try organizing my drawers the KonMarie way.

Most have probably heard of Marie Kondo by now, author of The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up. I read the book years ago and while I didn't follow it to the letter, it did inspire me to declutter even more.

One thing I didn't try at the time, but have been increasingly intrigued by is her method of folding clothing into small squares. With my drawers feeling increasingly stuffed, I finally decided to try it today. So I watched a few YouTube videos to fully understand folding method and dove in.

First I tackled my t-shirt drawer. I neglected to take a before photo, but here's my stack 'o shirts that filled the drawer.

It does take more time to fold the KonMarie way, but you quickly get the hang of it. Plus, I'll only have to fold the freshly laundered clothing each week.

Here's the after. I purged four shirts. While the 30 remaining shirts still fill the drawer, now I can easily see all of them instead of just the top three. Big improvement.

I'm even more pleased with the progress of the other drawers, which are much more shallow than the one above. The MarieKondo method works very well for these.. First up is a jam-packed drawer full of work shirts and sweaters. 

And the amazing after. Look at that empty space! I purged one top and moved a t-shirt to the t-shirt drawer, everything else is still here and completely visible.

My pajama drawer has always been a mess. I used to roll my PJ pants and tops, but they still barely fit in here.

And after, with lots of new empty space here too, which is truly amazing. I relocated a curling iron, but kept everything else. My hair straightener lives here, because I do my hair in the bedroom (with only one bathroom, ya gotta do some things differently). 

I also organized one of the half-size top drawers, which is full of work socks. I should probably purge everything on the right side of this drawer, because I hardly ever wear them, but for now I'm keeping them. Even so after refolding everything and tossing a few singles, there's empty space in here now and I was able to add a small box to store my extra Fitbit bands neatly.

I'm definitely a fan of all of this new space. In fact, I'm feeling inspired to tackle my remaining drawers and the closet next.

Do you use any special organizing or folding tricks on your clothing drawers?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A paid off home

Two weeks ago I did something a little scary ... something some might consider crazy even. I paid off my house. Yep, 12.5 years after buying my home it's truly mine and I'm debt free once again. Yay!

After a couple years of debating it, I finally stopped messing around and paid off the house mostly because I was pissed off. Pissed off that the newly passed tax bill once again favors the wealthy and big business over those who actually need assistance. Pissed off after hearing some politician's comment about how they were giving the poor more money to go spend. Money which they think will come back to the wealthy as profits. I vowed to save that extra money and put it to work for me instead. And it firmed my resolve to stop paying interest to a bank.

So I finally did it, went to the bank, wrote the biggest personal check I've ever written and the house was mine. It was kind of anti-climatic actually, but on the drive home I started feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

How is paying off a huge debt crazy? Well most conventional finance and investing advice says not to pay off a low interest loan like mortgages and instead invest it where you can make more. But investing isn't a sure thing and there's no way I would have ever put that same amount into the market. Definitely not now and probably not ever.

Don't get me wrong, I do invest. I regularly invest my retirement savings because it's the only way I'll ever be able to retire. In fact I significantly increased that savings rate last year and bumped it up a little more this year. But I like to spread out the risk and keep some in safer savings vehicles as well.

Also, at 5.7%, my mortgage rate wasn't as low as some. I probably should have refinanced at some point. I did look into it two years ago, but at that time the payoff was so long that it seemed better to just pay it off instead.

Even after paying off the mortgage, I still have an emergency fund that can cover 2+ years of expenses. I'd definitely recommend building an emergency fund and retirement savings first before tackling the mortgage.

I planned to pay off the mortgage all along because I didn't want to have to pay the bank all of that interest. So I started paying extra early. According to my records, my first extra payment was four years after purchasing the house. The first year I paid the equivalent of one extra payment, as I did the year after that. Then two extra payments. Then it varied. Last year I really started getting serious culminating with the final payoff.

So what's next? Well, I want to build up my savings a bit because my car is 18 years old and at some point I'm going to want a newer one. Then, with a paid off house and comfortable emergency fund, I can start funneling even more towards retirement savings.

Do you prefer to pay off debts or invest instead?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Challenge Accepted: January Cure Week I

I decided to try Apartment Therapy's January Cure this month. I've done the full blown version before, which is quite the commitment. So far the one month version is much more my speed. Plus, what else is there to do when the high is 15F?

Day 1: Organize a drawer
The January Cure kicks off with an easy win: Pick a drawer and organize it. I picked one of several kitchen junk drawers and weeded and organized them. The one on the right wasn't in too bad of shape. For the "cat drawer" on the right I weeded out some expired treats and medical items and now things fit much more neatly. While on a roll, I also checked out our big junk drawer but it was in fairly good shape.

Lucy poses distractedly above the after.

Day 2: Make a project list

The task for the second day is to do a walk-through of your home and jot down areas of improvement. I stuck to the main floor for this and while there is less to do that there was in the past, I still have a big list. It's a combo of cleaning chores and projects. Then you narrow the list down to three to fives projects per room that you actually want to tackle this month. Several painting items and other jobs will have to wait until it's warmer, but I'm pasting the hole list below for future reference. I'm hoping to tackle the italicized items during the cure and am debating a few others. I'm trying to be somewhat realistic about my motivation!

1. Declutter cabinet under TV
2. Clean light fixtures
3. Add remaining cabinet hardware

4. Fix scuffs on cabinets over fridge
5. Clean kitchen roman blinds
6. Paint cabinet molding
7. Replace cabinet molding or patch cabinet by doorway
8. Repair third dining chair
9. Paint back door
10. Paint basement door

Living room
1. Fix fireplace wall & paint (weather dependent)
2. Clean cobwebs off ceiling
3. Paint fireplace floor
4. Clean curtains

5. Paint baseboard

1. Paint hallway side of door
2. Touch up backsplash paint
3. Sweep fan blades
4. Beadboard touch ups

5. Buy new hand towels

I'm not quite sure how far I want to go with this, hence the commitment to just one item so far.
1. Fix ceiling + paint touch ups
2. Redo over bed area
2. Paint doors
3. Paint moldings
4. New window treatments

1. Fill and paint closet
2. Clean light

3. Paint baseboards
4. Hang art

The bedroom, looking cozy after cleaning, but pre-projects.

Day 3: Set up an outbox

The outbox is a holding space for items you may want to part. The thought is that by leaving them there for a couple of weeks some of your attachment will lessen. I set up a bag in the spare room closet and filled it with several items.

Day 4: Floors & Flowers

I was dreading this weekend assignment which challenges curers to first do something sweet by buying flowers or a plant for your home, then vacuuming and mopping all of your floors. Since all of the main floor can technically be mopped, that's a big job!

I vacuumed everything and mopped the kitchen and bathroom -- two rooms that definitely needed it. The floors in the living room, two bedrooms and hallway are all wood, so they can be mopped too, but the finish is old and not waterproof so I use very little water and wash a small section then immediately dry it. It's a big hands-on-your-needs job and since we don't wear shoes in the house (or aren't supposed to at least) I only did the living room and bedroom. I did a lot of scrubbing! They do look better now and I'm happy I did more than the minimum. But I didn't move major pieces of furniture like the sofa and entertainment center because it just didn't seem worth it. Under my bed is already spic and span since I cleaned it in December when my new mattress was delivered. This project makes me wonder how often others clean their wood floors? I do it very, very infrequently. Ike embarrassingly infrequently.

I haven't bought flowers yet, maybe something will catch my eye when we grocery shop tomorrow. If not, I'll count the candles I bought last weekend because in this wicked winter weather they are certainly making the space feel cozy.

So week one ends on a positive note and I'm feeling quite accomplished! We're only one week in, so there's still plenty of time to join the January Cure!


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