What’s Going On…

August was a pretty busy month for us. As we prepare for our move this coming Spring, I feel that the coming months will be just as busy.

We continue to declutter and organize, being mindful of exactly what we’re taking with us. What really matters to us the most. What brings us joy. What will we actually benefit from and use.

I’m thrilled that we’ve cleared out our rented storage unit. Most of the items that we were storing were building materials and tools that we will need once we move to the homestead, so we went ahead and moved those items to our storage shed on the property. Even though our stuff just went from one storage area to another, it still felt good to move it “home”. Not to mention, it feels good to be able to out that monthly payment amount into our savings account each month now.

There were also off season clothes, various kitchen items, and “projects” that we’d been holding on to. Once we’d been without it for a period of time, it was easy to decide what we were going to actually wear/use/complete and donate the rest. Those items have served us well and now they can be a blessing to someone else.

Since Labor Day was a long weekend, we spent it doing maintenance around the homestead. Clearing silt from the drainage ditch that runs along the road, cleared brush and moved some downed trees. Moving downed trees will be the theme of our life over the next year I’m certain. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. Low humidity and cooler temperatures.

I just loved the way the sun was shining through these trees.

A clearing is emerging!
The woods are calling, and I must go!
That SUN! Love!

And I had a visit from my little hummingbird buddy! He seems to thoroughly enjoy the butterfly bush I’ve planted.

While I didn’t get food preserved each and every day of August, I was able to add quite a few items to our storage. As mentioned in my previous post, I canned fruit cocktail, cherries in light syrup, potatoes, chicken breast, chili beans, carrots, pineapple, and homemade chicken broth and veggie broth. Oh! And I found the most AMAZING baked bean recipe for canning. I will definitely be making another batch to add to the pantry! Much to my delight, I was able to find a few deals on ground pork, turkey and beef, so I added that to our freezer. I also tried my hand at dehydrating for the first time. I started simple – just did some carrots. 3 pounds dehydrated to about 12 ounces in a jar. Dehydrating is going to be an amazing space saver. I can’t wait to try more things!

~Blessings!~

Moving Forward And Looking Back

This coming Spring, my husband and I will step into the next phase and chapter of our lives. We will be moving from our tiny apartment in the suburbs to our rural homestead, downsizing even further and simplifying our lives even more.

Several years ago we partnered with some dear friends to embark on this journey with. We share the same ideas, dreams and goals of living a simpler life. A sustainable, more self sufficient and purposeful life. A slower life.

We’ve used weekends and vacations to clear land and build a few structures. It’s been tough trying to cram as much productivity as possible into such short intervals. They’re truly is only so much that can be accomplished by two people in a limited amount of time. Unexpected health issues caused us to have to stop work completely for about a year to allow for recovery. We had to overcome some financial set backs as well, and adjust to our “new normal”. But in spite of this, we’ve continued to move forward, never losing sight of the end goal. We’ve had to accept that even slow progress is still progress.

Our friends are quite a bit farther along than we are. They completed construction of their house and moved to the property last year. We’re all looking forward to being together full time so some real progress can be made on the development of systems and structures. We all still have a few more years to work before we can retire, but it will certainly be easier to accomplish things once we’re settled.

Three years ago, after both our boys officially moved out, we did some major decluttering and downsizing into a 700 square foot apartment. We simply did not need a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,000 square foot house. We decided we could go ahead and start the great purge, further preparing for moving to our retirement homestead. With less expenses, we’ve been able to put more money aside, allowing us to cash flow several homestead projects. I will tell you though – we had a LOT of stuff. More than we ever realized. It was painful and overwhelming at times. We honestly spent the better part of a year donating, dumping, giving and sorting before we moved.

It had been 30 years since we’d lived in an apartment and we weren’t too sure we would be able to adapt to it, but reminding ourselves it was only temporary. Surprisingly, we’ve actually enjoyed it. We live in a great community and have a rather private unit. It was the most sensible thing to to do at the time we did it. Still, it was bittersweet.

We’d lived in our house for 10 years. That’s a lot of birthdays, graduations, holidays and memories. And as excited as hubby and I were to begin the “next phase” of our lives, there was also a sadness for the closure of the first chapter. We were officially empty nesters.

In that driveway and garage, my boys had learned everything from how to change a bicycle tire to swapping out a car motor and rebuilding a transmission. There’d been countless motorcycles and autos parked there with visiting friends and family.

We only locked our doors if we left, and it was not uncommon for one of our “borrowed” children to stick their head in yelling “Hey mom! Dad! You home?” I was always cooking and baking, making sure anyone who passed through left with a full belly. I still haven’t mastered cooking for two. I think I’m down to cooking for about four, so it’s a good thing we don’t mind leftovers.

We hosted all night computer game parties, the living room covered up with pre-teens and teenagers all engrossed in the latest quest while fueling up with pizza, cookies and soft drinks. Anyone who needed a place to crash was always welcome. It was never difficult to get help with house projects or yard work – there was always an extra set of hands that could come help out willingly.

There were countless neighborhood cats that passed through our home as well. Some only stopping to catch a quick bite of the food I left out for them. Others, happily lounging on my bench swing waiting for me to come out and give a chin scratch. A couple considered themselves members of our family. There were pets that passed away during those 10 years, so their memories are with us all still too.

That yard was where I had my first flock of chickens. There was always some kind of gardening experiment going on in various parts of the yard. A worm bin, a compost pile. Raised beds and container gardens. Twelve foot high sunflowers and eight foot high okra plants. Our wonderful neighbor and I solving all the worlds problems in discussions over the fence. I shared the bounty of my vegetable garden with her each summer; she shared the bounty of her flower bulbs in fall when she thinned out her plants. Her beautiful daylilies are growing at my homestead right now!

Our oldest son learned to drive stick shift in that neighborhood. Our youngest followed a couple years later. There was always some sort of automobile tinkering project going on in the driveway and garage.

I guess one of the things you don’t realize is just how quiet things get once the kids move out. That beautiful background noise of laughter and chatter. It just becomes such a part of your daily life that once it’s gone, you feel incredibly lonely without it. I was quite depressed those first few months after the boys were gone.

There is joy in knowing that we did our job as parents as best we could with what we had. I like to say my boys are amazing in spite of us. And we were – are – very close. We’re usually all together each Sunday – our two sons, daughter in law and granddaughter. We can sit and talk with these now adult children the same way we could when they were kids. They always knew they could come to us with anything. We were consistent, we were stable, we were safe and they knew they were loved.

So, we enter another bittersweet phase of our lives. Our homestead is about 2 hours in one direction, our youngest and his family are moving about 2 hours in another direction and our oldest is moving out of the state about 5 hours in yet another direction! Guess we’re all finally leaving the nest. So while getting together every Sunday is probably not going to be manageable, we’ll get together as often as possible. We’ll be the grandparents with the farm for the grandkids to come visit!

Even though I love our little apartment and it makes all the financial and practical sense in the world, I am so ready to get moved onto our homestead!

I miss my clothesline and the smell of laundry dried by the sun and a gentle summer breeze. 

I miss my hands being in the dirt and being surrounded by grass and flowers. Gardening is extremely therapeutic for me. The smell of dirt. The wonder at the miracle of a plant growing from seed. Seeing what flourishes and what was a complete waste of time. The birds singing, the bugs buzzing, the sun and fresh air all work together and help me sort out my thoughts. I’ve solved many problems while on my knees pulling weeds, picking beans or digging with a shovel.

New ideas ignite.

Solutions are found.

Clarity, focus and peace attained.

I’m at peace with where our lives are and where we are headed. On to the third quarter!

~Blessings!~

How I Created A Simple, Efficient Home Filing System And How It Changed My Life

OK. I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.

You know the one.

It’s disguised as a big pile of papers in the corner of your bedroom or on your dining table. Maybe you’ve managed to tuck it away in a closet or a drawer.

It doesn’t really matter if it’s in plain sight or hidden away – it’s BIG. And it takes up a LOT of valuable space – physically and mentally – of your life.

And it’s not necessarily a friendly elephant either! It’s causing you stress and anxiety – probably a lot more than you even realize. The thought of dealing with it and ordering it out of your life is so overwhelming that you can’t even begin. And maybe the times that you have attempted to tackle it, it wasn’t long before you realized just how heavy an elephant can be.

I’ve been there.

I speak from experience when I tell you I understand. I know what it is like to be reduced to tears, completely defeated, drowning in a disorganized, chaotic mess of paperwork.

“I know that receipt is here SOMEWHERE!”

Three years ago, my husband and I downsized from our home, where we had raised our children to adulthood, to a one bedroom apartment. About a year before we moved, we got serious about de-cluttering our whole house taking a good, hard look at exactly what we needed and what we could do without. We also devised systems to effectively store and organize what we do need for the management of our home. There’s nothing like packing up a house that you’ve lived in for more than 10 years to make you realize just how cleverly you can tuck away clutter and things you’d rather not deal with! (Big ‘ol elephants can hide anywhere!) Absolutely shameful!

When it came to our paperwork, I knew two things:

1) I did NOT want to move all my paper clutter with me, and 2) the “filing system” I had was just not working,

My previous system involved a Pendaflex file box that I bought our first year of marriage (!), a cardboard box, a nightstand drawer, a 2 drawer vertical filing cabinet, an end table drawer and a stand up file.

You know where I’m going with this. As long as I had my paperwork “put” somewhere, I was organized, right? Yep!

Up until the point I needed something anyway.

Like the title for the car I was selling. Or the vaccination record my son needed to get into college. Or the receipt and warranty information for the washing machine that had quit working.

I cannot tell you how many times I said, “I know I have it, I’ve just got to locate it.”

The next step is not easy. It’s just not. There’s no way around it. There are ways to make it manageable, but it can still be daunting and overwhelming. All that mess has to be sorted, gone through and somewhat organized before we ever get to the point of purchasing pretty file folders and a nifty label maker. But, you know what they say –

“there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time”

I tackled each storage (ahem!) area individually. Sometimes I would set a time for 15 – 30 minutes, sometimes I would just work on it until I was completely disgusted and in tears. Either way I did it, I was still making progress. And the more I chipped away at it, the more motivated I became to conquer it and make sure it never consumed me like that again!

I armed myself with sticky notes, a pen and notepad and got to work.

I dumped the nightstand drawer onto the floor of my bedroom and did a quick “pre-sort”, just quickly glancing at everything and assigning it to a pile. Once everything was kinda sorta sorted, I was able to get an idea of what I actually needed to keep and began formulating my organization system. I labeled each pile with a sticky note according to category and if I found a receipt for something, I made a note to match it with the manual (wherever it may be!) and vice versa. With each stack labeled with a sticky note, I was able to create a stopping point for myself enabling me to walk away and save my sanity. If I needed to do something else, if my timer went off, or if I just simply needed to take a break, I could stack the labeled piles and pick back up when ready. Having an “In Progress” pile let me know that’s where I had left off.

I then moved on to the box, to the pendaflex, to the other drawer, etc. sorting in the same fashion until all my “put” places had been emptied and sorted. Next, I took each category (pile) and did a further sort. I was amazed at how much paperwork I was able to actually get rid of!

One of my curses is I love sub-categories. I also love to take a simple project and make it very complicated. My brain does not think in a straight line. With that being said, I’ll spare you the next several paragraphs it would take to explain how many times I created a system and dismantled the system to finally arrive at what works best for me. 🙂 Since we were downsizing, I had to take into consideration the amount of actual space I could designate as well as keeping it efficient and something that I would actually stick with.

I keep our bills in a folder until they are paid. Once they are paid, they are moved to the Tend To tray. This is a designated tray (just ONE!) that I keep on top of the Pendaflex file for incoming paperwork. I started the habit of clearing that tray each and every Wednesday. Receipts for purchases, paid bills, paystubs, recipes I print, etc., all go into that tray. By dealing with it on a weekly basis, I’m able to stay on top of it and easily keep everything organized.

I broke the actual filing system down into 3 key areas that satisfy my sub-category addiction while managing to keep it simple!

  • Current Quarter/Easily Accessible In the Event I Need to Grab It: Contained in the Pendaflex file, I have 3 hanging file folders for each month of the current quarter. Paystubs, paid bills, and bank statements are examples of what go into the monthly files. Also contained in this file box are our medical insurance benefits booklet, our auto loan paperwork and insurance dec page, apartment lease and storage unit agreement, a folder for each of our cats, a folder for financial or medical bill disputes, and a folder for each tool and piece of equipment we’ve recently purchased containing the receipt, manual and warranty registration card. These are the items I felt were important to keep within “arms reach” for referencing if needed.
  • The Archives: I purchased a file tub to store papers that were important enough to keep, but also didn’t need to be “front and center”. Since space is a premium right now, I wanted something that could go onto a closet shelf and not be too heavy or bulky to deal with. It holds letter size hanging file folders so I didn’t have to purchase any special supplies. At the end of each quarter, everything is moved from the monthly folders in the Pendflex box into one hanging file folder labeled for the whole quarter in the Archives box. This is also where I keep copies of the past 5 years tax returns.
  • The Vault: This is where our important legal and identification documents are stored. Car titles, birth certificates, social security cards and statements, medical records, advanced directives, life insurance policies, and our will are all stored in this locking fireproof/waterproof safe. My Person has a copy of all the pertinent documents contained in the safe as well as a spare key.

The beauty of this is all three of these storage areas fit in my bedroom closet. They are out of sight, but still on my mind. When I open them, they are neat and organized rather than a looming pile of “I’m not sure what’s in there”.

Yes, this was a tough area to tackle and deal with. This is one of those organizing projects that can be not only physically exhausting, but mentally as well. I don’t know why, but for some reason I had a certain amount of guilt, and even shame for just how out of control this area of our life was! I felt like I had been lazy and inattentive. And i would get downright ANGRY when I couldn’t find paperwork that I knew I had!

Was all the pain worth it?

Absolutely!

I cannot tell you how much better I feel since taking that last bite of elephant and creating a system that works with me and for me. It literally takes me about 5-10 minutes TOPS each Wednesday to deal with the paperwork from the week before. I have mental peace, knowing that should I need a document or receipt, I know exactly where to go to get it. Stress is one of those “death by a thousand paper cuts” things. And often times, it’s the stress that we don’t even know we feel that does the most damage. I truly felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders once I started using my system and seeing how well it worked.

So , really the only advice I can give is just start. Work on things a little at a time. Get help from a friend or family member if you’re comfortable in doing so. Any little bit of progress is still progress. Remember, this is YOUR system and it has to work with YOUR personality and YOUR family. No one else!

~Blessings!~