Mar 10 2011

poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty.  Continue reading


Feb 27 2011

give some, get none [day 277]

Yesterday, I spent the early part of the day running errands before work.  Most of them were driving the Infiniti sleigh, full of donations, to all of the required destinations for drop-off.  I started at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, dropping off my old back door, extra slate tiles and a bag of hardware.  I went inside to look for a new front door.  The style I want, the size and that fact it needs to be used is making it difficult to find one.  Yesterday I found 3, and 2 of which I liked, but I decided not to purchase one.  I don’t need it and I’ve spent a lot of money on my house lately.

Next stop was the purple thrift store in McKinney, benefiting the Samaritan Inn.  I dropped off a few bags of my stuff, a box of stuff from work and two bags from my friends.  Of course I had to go inside, but I did it with my new minimalist trajectory.  Here’s what I didn’t buy.  2 blue ceramic bowls.  I thought about buying them because we don’t use paper plates or plastic utensils, even when entertaining, so I tend to keep more of these in the house.  I have all solid colored mis-matched dishes.  I chose not to buy them, as I really don’t entertain that much and I didn’t need them.  Just saved $2.  The other thing I didn’t buy was a metal orange tray for $3.  My kids like to occasionally use a tray to eat upstairs, which I allow about 2 times a year.  We have a plastic red tray, and I didn’t need the orange tray.  No need for 2 of anything like that.  I probably don’t even need to keep the red tray.  I didn’t need anything in there, so I left without buying anything.  Time for my next stop.

I decided to go to Half Price Books since I had a pile of books I didn’t need.  I’ve sold books to them in the past and I swore I would never do it again.  For the number of books, the value of them as used books and the condition, I always felt financially raped when I left there after selling books.  I thought this time I’ll go in, sell my stuff and be prepared for any amount of money I might get.  I gave them 8 classic novels, 4 current magazines, 1 current novel, 3 cookbooks and other miscellaneous books.  23 pieces in all.

All of these are used, my best estimate is $40.00 out of pocket.  Since it was a weekend, Half Price was busy so I had to wait a little while for them to process my stuff.  That was no problem, as I wanted to look around a little bit.  I was hoping to find some books on hoarding or materialism, but to no avail.  I looked on the ‘housekeeping / organization’ shelf first.  Continue reading


Feb 26 2011

the minimalist challenge update [day 275]

I have to say, I never thought I would call myself anything related to being a minimalist.  I was raised in a very materialistic home and placed a pretty high value on having stuff.   So what exactly is a minimalist?  Here’s the dictionary definition.

minimalist

[min-uh-muh-list]

–noun
1.  a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals or who holds minimal expectations for the success of a program.
2.  a practitioner of minimalism in music or art.

–adjective
3.  of, pertaining to, or characteristic of minimalism.
4.  being or offering no more than what is required or essential.

Every day, within my normal routine, I’m finding a lot of material possessions that I just don’t need, want or even use.  I have a basket set up as a staging area to get these things out of my house.  Not a day has gone by, within the last week, that I haven’t placed at least one thing in there.  I open the kitchen drawer and realize I have extra hot pads, I walk by a shelf wondering why I have a cluster of too many vases on it, do I really need that stack of books… you get the picture.  I like this new mentality.  It’s that same one that keeps me from buying impulse items, shopping for no reason and buying things just because it’s a good deal.

I suppose if I look at this, applying the definition, I din’t know how many people would say I’m striving to be a minimalist.  When you look at the part that says “required or essential”, does that mean for us to live or to live in our society?  My minimalism would be considered the latter of the two.  Clearly, I don’t need a car to live, I don’t need that cute art bowl on my table to live, nor do I need the most awesome hot tub in my back yard to live.  Comparing these items to our basic necessities of food, water and moderate shelter, it’s extravagant.  When compared to a middle class family, it’s the norm.

My house is considered small in the higher income, affluent city I live in.  I’ve thought about downsizing.  I even had a nightmare about it last night.  Worse yet, it’s a recurring one.  I bought a new, bigger house about 30 minutes north of where I live.  I got a good deal on it, so I bought it with the intention of selling my current house.  In this dream, I always forget I have the new house until the 1st mortgage payment invoice shows up.  I haven’t sold my house, I’ve lost the key to the new house and I’m not even sure exactly where the new house is.  I usually wake up from this nightmare in a panic, clenching my teeth, stressed out about something that never happened.

As Madonna says, we’re living in a material world, but I don’t want to be a material girl.


Feb 19 2011

dust, downsizing, donations and discards [day 269]

The Boyscouts are collecting food items in my neighborhood today to donate to our local food pantry, Frisco Family Services.  I want to help, but I just cleaned out my pantry a couple of weeks ago and drastically changed my shopping habits to not have too much extra food in the house.  I realized that I actually accomplished this when I had a friends kids over and I had to cook for 5 people.  Most of the things I had to cook would not feed 5 people.  As I was going through my pantry this morning, pulling out some things to donate, it hit me.

A flood of memories absorbed my thoughts as I reflected back to a few specific times when I was taught a lesson, yet I didn’t fully learn it until this morning.  My first big flashback was Hurricane Andrew.  I worked in Miami, and although my home in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t hit, I knew many people that were homeless after the storm.  (It gave me a new appreciation for my one-way 62 mile commute to work)  My workplace was demolished.  The large retail company I worked for placed me in charge of coordinating relief efforts for their employees, which was approximately 150 families.  Other stores from all over Florida donated stuff, the company had it all sent to us in a semi truck.  As we opened it in anticipation of receiving some things that were desperately needed, that excitement turned into sadness as we saw the contents of the neatly stacked boxes from inside the truck.  It was filled with clothing discards, boxes stuffed with unorganized clothing chaos that looked as though it had been loaded into the boxes with a dump truck.  There was very little food or toiletries, the things that were really needed.

Next, were my thoughts of working in the FFS food pantry.  I enjoyed this time, and I learned a lot.  Although many people gave some great food items, at least once or twice a day we received the bags of very expired “I-finally-cleaned-out-my-pantry” food.  I saw food cans that had so much dust on them, we had to wipe it off to see the date stamp.  I worked there in 2010 and I saw a bag of food where most had expired in 1994.  These donations fill absolutely no need at the food pantry.  They cannot give out expired food.  When it gets close, or is only right after the expiration, they give it away on the free shelf, that requires no voucher, and is not applied toward their allotted amount.  I was afraid to ask what happens to the really old food like that, as I’m sure they have to throw it in the trash, but I just didn’t want to hear that answer.  Some things are better left unsaid.

My last thought was how many times I might have donated expired food, feeling good that I’ve helped people in need, yet was basically making life difficult for the volunteers at the food pantry and never helping anyone.  I was helping with good intentions, as I think we all do, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons.  Helping people is not an opportunity to get rid of my expired, unwanted food or to get rid of clothing that’s hideously out of style.  Helping should be an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, filling a need they have at one of the lowest periods in their life, in many cases.  Yes, others can be blessed by us donating some things we don’t need or want any longer, however the thought process should be that of, “What if I was on the receiving end?  Would I like this or want this?  Would I need this?”  As my friend Amy just said, “Sometimes your trash can also be another person’s trash.”

I filled a bag this morning in a completely different way.  It has food that I like and bought for me and my family to eat.  It’s not expired, nor is it stuff I don’t like.  My minset is this, if I’ve been blessed enough that I can feed my family with no problem, I should pay it forward.  I can easily replace this food.  Every so often we have, and will do more often, shopped specifically for food and toiletries to donate.  I’ve done this in the past to teach my kids about helping people in need, and just how important it is to do it for the right reasons, so how did I miss all the lessons?  My bag of food for the Boyscouts is not a big one, but all of the items are current and mostly things I just shopped for last week.  Geez, how many other lessons have I chosen to ignore?  Maybe I should keep one, dusty, expired can of some sort of gross food so I don’t forget.


Feb 17 2011

dual purpose get-togethers [day 267]

Several months ago, I conducted a Photoshop training class at the church where I work.  It was something I did for fun, and for free.  All I asked is that people bring something to donate to the local food pantry or a thrift store.  The photo is of the food that was donated, however there were many more bags with housewares and clothing.

I hosted a Super Bowl party at my house a couple of weeks ago.  It was mostly our singles church group, but lots of other good friends as well.  Since I’ve been encouraging everyone to clean out their spaces and donate what they don’t need or want, I thought it would be a good idea to have them bring it, and I would get it donated.  I can’t believe how much stuff people brought!  It was cold, so I put it in my garage, adding it to a pile of coats and blankets, recently donated by a lady at church, whom I think did the same thing, collect stuff during get-togethers or locally in your neighborhood.

On your next evite or get-together, ask people to bring something to donate.  This is a great way to build community, get people thinking outside themselves, get some unwanted stuff to people who will be blessed by it, feed some hungry people and have a great time with good friends.  It’s a win-win-win-win-win?  😉

[All of the donations have been taken to the appropriate donation destinations, all of the stuff much appreciated!  My garage is quickly becoming empty and can now safely be used as an exit.]


Feb 14 2011

I’m the ugly neighbor [day 263]

I know my neighbors must cringe when they drive by garage when the door is open.  I’m clearly the ugly neighbor.  Since I’ve been downsizing in the cold weather, everything was pitched out into the garage, in anticipation of some warm weather to get everything to the appropriate places.  Where are those places?  Anywhere but a landfill… the thrift store, the food pantry, craigslist, and last but not least, freecycle.

I needed to not only get the stuff out, but I needed to find one specific can of paint in the vast mountains of paint cans in my garage.  Well, after pulling all the paint out onto the driveway in preparation to give it away, I could not find the one can I needed for my kitchen ceiling.  Seriously?

I didn’t count, but I know there was well over 100 cans of paint.  I got rid of 99% of what I had.  I really wanted to do something fun and creative in the process of getting it out of my garage, but I found myself in gridlock, paralyzed by the sheer amont of stuff in my garage.  There’s just no time to creatively get rid of my stuff, so I started placing all of it on the driveway and listing it on freecycle as I cleaned it out.  About 80% of the stuff is gone already, in less than a day.

I collected coats, blankets, food and miscellaneous stuff from friends an neighbors to donate to the homeless and impoverished.  All of that is in my car and will be delivered to the appropriate destinations today.  It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Less stuff feels good.  And just so I’m not tempted to collect more junk, I gave away the shelving unit that I cleared off yesterday.  No empty shelves to refill, just nice, clean empty s p  a     c         e.   Continue reading


Jan 31 2011

I don’t like to drink bubble bath [day 249]

I met with some friends at a local coffee shop a couple of days ago.  Coffee shops are good… the implied earthy feel, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, the trendy decor, the comfortable seats, the people watching entertainment and the busy sounds of much needed liquid caffeine being altered into complex 8 word requests from the addicts.  I say all of that as I sit here drinking my one-shot, non-fat latte.  A latte I made at home for a fraction of the cost of a coffee shop latte.  Yes, I’m sitting at home, alone, looking at the mess I should be picking up, laundry I should be washing and saving money by not going to the coffee shop to blog.

Because I don’t like paper waste, I bring my own cup or mug to anyplace that will fill it, as opposed to a paper or styrofoam cup.  I brought my retro orange mug into the coffee shop, and thinking about the 2 lattes I’ve had already, I really didn’t need another.  But I also wanted to purchase something, as I’m sure they don’t appreciate me bringing in my own cup with my own drink.  (yes, I admit, I’ve done that before)  I decided to get a tea bag, as it’s probably the cheapest thing they have and I can use it a few times before it just makes hot water look dingy.  So I got a tea bag that was some sort of green tea.  “That will be $2.44…” the cashier said with a smile.  ??!!?  $2.44 for a tea bag?  I paid, irritated with myself for not looking for a price before ordering this.  I got my tea, in my retro mug and took at seat in the loft.

As I sat down and started to take a sip of my steaming hot tea, the shocking aroma of lilac stopped me immediately.  I was pretty sure I was about to drink hot bubble bath.  I took a deep breath and tried it.  It didn’t taste as horrible as it smelled, and for $2.44, I’m going to drink it.  I tell my kids not to be wasteful, so I’m gonna suck it up.  (pun intended)

I drank about 3/4 of it and spent a lot of time thinking of other uses for this tea bag.

Green tea?  Not so much.  Bubble bath?  Possibly, but it would stain my tub.  Fabric dye?  That would work, but I can’t think of anything I need to dye that color.  A drawer sachet?  I do not want my clothes smelling like that!  Air freshener?  Not a chance.  Perfume?  I could send it to my mom’s friend that used to wear vodka and lilac as perfume.  She my enjoy it.  Aroma therapy?  No, this would be like aroma torture.  Decor?  I’m creative, and even I can’t make this work as a decor item.  Any ideas?  It’s still sitting on my counter.

My idea.

I’m not opposed to spending $2.44.  I am opposed to spending that because I didn’t need anything to drink.  What if these coffee shops had a program to buy something for someone in need?  I go there, use their free wi-fi, take up table space, meet my friends there that are spending money, but my purchase is for a homeless person to have a cup of coffee or for a donation of their coffee to a local food pantry?  This could be a win-win-win.  I have a good place to meet friends, the coffee shop builds their business, someone in need gets a little help and our community is a better place.  Works in my head.  :)


Jan 26 2011

recycle freecycle [day 246]

Freeycycle is the modern day dumpster diving, without having to touch a dumpster or trash can.  From the freecycle site: It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on ‘Browse Groups’ above the search box. Have fun!

I had my first free items from freecycle.org a couple of weeks ago.  Three empty 5-gallon paint buckets from Home Depot.  I really needed just one, but the others will come in handy too, as I need to get rid of most of the paint I’ve been hoarding for years.

A few days ago, I got 3 lamps from freecycle.  One of them being a really cool, ultra-modern lamp, but needing repair to the on/off switch.  I haven’t repaired the lamp yet, but I can use the electrical from one of the other lamps that was missing a shade.  This lamp was not cheap and is probably the nicest lamp I own now.  The other small lamp, also missing a shade, will be my new energy efficient light in the nook on my staircase.  I ran electrical to that a couple of months ago since there was electrical in the closet underneath the stairs.

I’ve also gotten rid of things that I don’t need anymore.  Clutter is not my friend, so this made it easy.  I had some fence boards that I had no place to store.  Someone on freecycle was getting as many fence pieces as possible so he could build a new fence.  Smart dude, as he probably saved $5k and kept a lot of wood out of the landfill.   Continue reading


Jan 19 2011

the clothing experiment update [day 237]

Here’s the experiment.  I decided to reduce my wardrobe by 50%.  I also threw out a mini-challenge.  Take 25 pieces of clothing from your closet, place them in a box or plastic tote.  Put it away for a month and see if you miss any of the stuff in it.  If not, take it to the thrift store.  If so, take out the item(s) you missed.  Here are some updates.

50% reduction

I still have a long way to go on achieving a 50% wardrobe reduction.  I’m close, but I still need to purge some more stuff.  I went through my drawers and got rid of about 40% of that.  I need to make my 2nd and 3rd passes there.  I also had 2 loads of dirty laundry that were not included.  I didn’t count the pieces, but just guessing, I need to get rid of about 75-100 more pieces.  I’ll do that later in the week.

my boys did the mini challenge

I had both of my kids pull 25 clothing items out of their closets.

My youngest, 10, has some emotional attachments to his clothing, and to stuff he’s never even worn. Wow, we all start this process early. He has a lot of hand-me-downs that he intends to wear. The process was not easy for him.

My oldest, 11, is way pickier than I thought. I learned a lot about him in the process. He hates yellow and thinks it makes him look like a clown. He won’t wear anything with a collar. He had a lot of clothes in the back of his closet that were too small, and some clean laundry. I thought he had a lot of clothes, but he doesn’t because his brother, being the same size, has hoarded them all.

50 pieces of clothing is going to the resale shop.  And my boys? They feel good about it. It’s easier to keep their rooms clean.

others taking the challenge

I have gotten some great responses to the mini-challenge.  Besides the several people doing it, here’s some great feedback.   Continue reading


Jan 5 2011

what retailers should you support? [day 222]

I found myself being irritated at the grocery store, stirring over the little yellow tags again.  (day 160… trained shopping monkeys)  Upon a very deliberate observation, I would guess 60% or more of the little yellow tags are ‘low price‘ tags and not ‘sale‘ tags.  How am I supposed to grocery shop for the best prices?  My kids have been yellow-tag-trained too, as they shop thinking anything with a yellow tag is one sale.  Isn’t marketing wonderful?

Even with the irritation, I have found a few retailers that are doing some really good things.  Competition is fierce and I think all retailers succumb to the manipulative marketing at some point or another.  Here’s a few retail stores I would support, you know, if I could shop.  😉  This is not a comprehensive list, just a few I’ve run into lately.

Lowe’s hardware store. Of any shopping I might miss, I do miss my home improvement / hardware stores.  I’m going to be a little generic here since I’m not sure how public this information is, as some companies do things under the radar to stay out of the corporate ball of red tape.  Lowe’s has not only donated the materials, but also the labor to add restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to a local homeless shelter.  Not only that, but finishing off the rooms, painting, and many other details too numerous to mention.  Need some screws?  Go to Lowe’s.

Again, probably under the radar, but not sure, Market Street grocery store donates a lot of leftover foods to shelters in the area.  There’s a lot of stores putting perfectly good food in dumpsters, but not MS.  Shopping at Market Street is a treat, as it’s a little on the pricey side for my shopping habits, however they carry foods you can’t find anywhere else.  Their cafe is also a great deal for lunch or dinner, as the prices are good, portions are big and the food is great.

Yes, Kroger.  Even though I’m not so happy about their little yellow tags, they still do good things for the community.  On day 55, I blogged about how Kroger gives away $1 million dollars a year to organizations that help people in need.  All you have to do is print their little bar code and have it scanned when you shop to support organizations in your area.

I don’t know the motivation of any of these stores, but I do know when I choose where to shop, I want to know I’m not just making some fat pockets for a few executives that don’t need more money.  I want to support businesses that strengthen the community, minimize waste, treat their employees well and participate in the good of people.  :)