Procrastination and productivity

As much as I like to make things, there have been some things that I’ve been putting off doing recently.  Although I’ve been getting everything done that’s needed for work, I’ve been putting off what feel like more non-essential things, even though these are often the tasks that are important to building a more resilient and sustainable life.  By and large these are relatively small things, but I put them off all the same.  I think I often convince myself that whatever I want to do will take a long time or be otherwise inconvenient, and so I let things sit.

In most cases, however, this is far from the truth.  To combat my procrastination I’ve been trying to do things that I would normally put off just as a matter of routine.  This means they get done quickly – usually the same day, if not as soon as I think of them – and often I find they don’t take anywhere near as long as I think they will.  In turn, this makes it more likely that I’ll keep up with the things that I want to or need to do.  It’s been a bit surprising to me how easy it is to fit in these smaller tasks.

This past week, I changed a flat tire on my bicycle, made sauerkraut, started ginger beer and sourdough starters, soaked beans for sprouting, and put together a sugar scrub and face masque for my sensitive and currently very unhappy skin.  The thing that took the longest was easily the sauerkraut, but even with the chopping and pounding down it took only around a half hour, perhaps a bit more with cleanup (cabbage everywhere).  Everything else took well under 15 minutes.

My recent schedule hasn’t left much time for anything other than work, but as things slow down and settle in a bit, it’s good to know that I can fit in some of the activities that I’ve been holding off on.  It’s important to me to know that I’m being at least a bit productive in ways that don’t involve work, and it’s felt really, really good to be able to accomplish some of these tasks in the free time that I have.

Home for a rest

In this busy time of the year, and with major ongoing life changes happening, it’s become increasingly important for me to have some serious downtime on a regular basis.  By serious, though, I’m really referring to quality, not so much to quantity.  I find that so long as it’s quality rest, I can get by with one full day off per week.  More is better, if I can swing it, but a solid day of quiet downtime is fairly necessary for me to continue to function at a reasonable level.

Since I teach on Monday, Sundays are usually devoted to work prep, although I try to keep them as low-key as possible.  Fridays are usually devoted to errands and anything that needs to get done.  This leaves Saturdays as my day off, and I’ve been trying to make the most of them, and to get into some restful habits that will be easy to keep up.

On Sundays, I usually don’t go out, unless it’s for a bike ride or a walk.  I don’t shop or run any errands.  I don’t turn on my email, read the news, or check social media.  In fact, my only media use on Saturdays is listening to music or watching a movie, or occasionally drafting a blog post if the mood to write strikes me.  Instead, I do quiet things like read, bake, cook, nap, sew, or knit.

Today, I slept in a bit longer than usual, then got up and went for a long bike ride – I’m trying to spend as much time enjoying the last of the nice weather outside while I can.  I came home, made some lunch, and spent some time tidying and then reading on the couch, which also just happens to be where I dozed off for a bit later in the afternoon.  When I got up again, I started the process of making sauerkraut and a ginger beer starter.  With that finished, I made pizza and a berry smoothie for dinner, and ate while watching The Lord of The Rings.

It’s hardly exciting, but hardly exciting is exactly what I need.  Having a day off with little contact with outside world and quiet, restful pursuits is vital to my well-being.  At the end of these days, I feel rejuvenated in a way that no other activity or approach has managed.  This may not be possible every weekend, but as much as possible I’ll be keeping my Saturdays quiet, low key, and restful so I can continue to do the other things in my life that are so important to me.

Style and substance

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  – William Morris

 

For a long time, I swore that I was someone who values substance over style and function over form.  I still don’t think this is necessarily untrue.  I’d much rather have something functional but not so nice to look at than something pretty but useless.  But I’ve recently realized fairly acutely that valuing practicality and utility doesn’t mean that I don’t like nice things, or that I don’t want a home that’s somewhat aesthetically pleasing and relaxing to be in.

One of my recent projects has been revamping my apartment.  I suspect that at least part of the reason I told myself that I preferred form to function for so long was because it excused the fact that my apartment was an ill thought out, overstuffed, poorly arranged mess.  The remedy?  Getting rid of some things, replacing others, and spending a bit of time just making the place look and feel nice.  I spend a lot of time here, and the truth is that making it into a nicer place to be does me a world of good.

I was, however, not really willing to spend all that much on style just for the sake of style.  On top of that, I needed to watch my budget.  I put a good bit of money towards a new bed and it was important to not spend a lot on other things.  I didn’t want to wind up buying whatever was available simply because it was there and it was cheap, though.  As I keep shopping the secondhand market, it’s become clear that it’s important to be selective and to not just buy things that are sort of what I want or need.  It’s easy to justify “close enough” when something only costs five dollars, but it’s not worth it in the long run, so I tried to hold out for things that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Most of my shopping was done through August, when I had the loan of a car from a friend.  Since thrift stores have such highly variable stock, I simply showed up a lot in the hopes that some good stuff would show up. Other than some basic bookcases, I didn’t buy anything that didn’t make me think, “yes, that’s lovely and exactly what I need!”

I was fortunate there was quite a lot of “yes!” happening on these trips.  For furniture, my trips yielded two bookcases ($8 and $10), two chairs with solid walnut frames ($5 each), a metal filing unit ($5), two brass floor lamps ($5 and $7), a brass table lamp ($3), a pottery table lamp ($3), and a pine side table ($3).  I also picked up four down throw pillows ($3 each), a couple of baskets ($1 and $5), linen napkins and placemats (8 for $1), crystal glasses ($1.80 each), candles (25 for $4), and a few pieces of pottery (from $1 to $4).  All told, as of the end of August my apartment revamp cost around $100, excluding the bed.

 

I’ve been thinking of this style as some kind of hybrid of modern, industrial, vintage, and rustic.  It’s probably really just eclectic, but I like it and it leaves me feeling comfortable and relaxed.  Do I need an aesthetic or style?  No, not really.  I’d be fine without it and would function just as well.  If I didn’t have the resources I wouldn’t have done it and would have been just fine.  But, given the choice, it’s nice to be able to have a little bit of form along with my function.  It’s a pleasure to turn on lamps that cast softer light, to appreciate the design and materials of a chair, and to light candles and look around at an apartment that feels much more like home than it has in awhile now.

Fighting food waste

 

Food waste is a huge issue.  Research suggests that 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted in America and many millions of tonnes of food are wasted every year.  Personally, I loathe wasting food.  Throwing out something that could have been eaten not only reminds me of the impact on my budget and the waste stream but, more importantly, that waste is an offense in a society where millions of people are food insecure on a regular basis.

Happily, food waste is largely avoidable with some planning and resourcefulness.  One advantage of living on my own now is that I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s meal preferences.  This means that I can much more easily deal with anything in the fridge that’s starting to turn, thereby cutting down significantly on wasted food.

In the case of tonight’s dinner (which I completely neglected to photograph), the starting-to-turn culprit was a bag of mushrooms.  They were starting to tend towards dampness which doesn’t really make for good eating.  Faced with close to two pounds, I decided to make a cream of mushroom and barley soup.  This choice also allowed me to use up some aging yogurt and the last bit of the milk that I bought for my parents’ visit.  The recipe was really delicious, but I was almost equally pleased with the fact that I was able to not waste perfectly fine food.  And, as I was cooking I also found another aging tub of yogurt in the back of the fridge.  With the addition of a probably-soon-to-turn cucumber and a few other ingredients, will become tzatziki sauce for dinner tomorrow.

There’s nothing really groundbreaking here – just a bit of awareness of what’s in the fridge and a general willingness to eat meals based on what needs to be used up.  It doesn’t feel like deprivation or anything close to hardship – just making wiser use of whatever resources are available.

Sewing machine repair

I started today by biking to the thrift store for a return.  I was thinking that I’d get it out of the way so I wouldn’t have to go and be tempted during No Spend September.  In reality, going today just meant that I just moved the temptation up a day.  But it might be a good thing that I did since I made my last pre-challenge purchase with my store credit: a Janome sewing machine for $5.

In answer to the questions that will almost certainly be asked by my mother, yes I already had a sewing machine and no I didn’t technically need another one.  So why did I buy it?  The price certainly factored in, as did the fact that it’s a brand known for quality.  But, more than that, I’d like to do more sewing and it has features that my machine doesn’t.  It was a tiny bit of a gamble because the store doesn’t have an electrical testing station.  But I got it home and it seemed to do everything well except for one problem – the stitch length dial was stuck between 1 and 3 (it should go from 0 to 4) and when turned it didn’t actually change the stitch length.

Having recently spent $110 on a tuneup and repairs to my grandmother’s sewing machine and heading into a spending challenge, I wasn’t willing to put more money into a second machine when I already had a serviceable one.  But I wondered whether it might be worth trying to fix the new one myself.  If that didn’t work, I could always take it in for repairs when my budget was a bit more flexible.  So I turned to Google, deliverer of helpful instructions, and started reading.  One thing that seemed like a common fix for machines having the same issues was applying heat.  Apparently, over time, machine oil combines with dust and lint and gets sticky, causing jams.  Heating the oil, these sites suggested, could loosen things enough to get them moving again.

I was a bit skeptical.  It seemed way too easy.  But I took off the side panel, got my hair dryer, and gave it a go.  After two minutes, I could turn the dial using a lot of strength.  After four minutes, it turned easily and actually varied the stitch lengths.  I was utterly delighted.

I know this isn’t much of a repair in the grand scheme of things (perhaps more of a “repair”), but I’m so pleased that I was able to get something that wasn’t functioning all that well back into reasonable working order.  The more small actions I complete to repair things and extend their life, the more confident I become in taking on bigger and more complicated tasks.  I doubt I’m ever going to be a mechanical genius or a DIY guru, but it feels good to be able to take care of little fixes as needed and saves a good bit of money and bother.

 

No spend September

August, oh August.  Frankly, you were rather crappy.  And I responded to that crappiness by shopping and spending like someone who was in want of some serious distraction.  I bought things.  Many things.  They are lovely and useful and most were secondhand and inexpensive and I can’t really say that I regret it all that much.  But after all that I feel like I have a few pressing reasons to do a no spend month.  Immediately.

First, I’ve done enough shopping in the last month to last me for a good long while.  I’ve wiped almost everything off my “I want this, but I want it secondhand” shopping list.  I have an abundance of clothes, books, kitchen stuff, craft supplies, and all manner of other things.  I even have a large stockpile of food that could use some rotating through.  There’s no need for me to go shopping.  So I won’t.

Second, I’ve spent a good bit of money.  I didn’t go into debt and barely put a dent into my savings, but I’d like to get back to my focus on living as frugally as possible.  The more I can build up my savings, the better, and I’d like to make some financial changes around things like investing.  Even $50 or $100 a month can make a big difference, and tightening the budget and getting away from shopping will help get me closer to my goals.

Third, I realise that a separation is one of those things categorized as a MAJOR LIFE EVENT, but I no matter how crazy things are I just don’t want to get into the habit of using shopping as a way to distract myself or self-soothe.  I know full well that I was doing a lot of shopping in an attempt to care for myself and get out of the apartment, but there were times when my willingness – perhaps even need, in some of the darker moments – to get out and shop was a little scary.  There are better ways.  I want to figure out what they are again.

Conveniently, September is very nearly here and with the start of the month I’ll also be starting another month-long challenge.  The rules are:

  • Regular expenses like rent, utilities, insurance, and so on are all fine, although making efforts to minimize those expenses is cool
  • No shopping for clothes, books, housewares, entertainment, tools, craft supplies, or any other wants
  • Meeting needs – actual ones, not “but I reeeeaaaaly want it” ones – is also fine
  • Shopping for food is okay, but make an effort to use up what’s on hand first, and don’t go overboard (I’d actually like to see how much I can do with pantry staples)
  • Replacing any necessary used-up toiletries or health items is acceptable
  • Anything desirable that doesn’t meet the parameters goes on a wish list, both to reduce the desire and also to track what’s tempting and why
  • Any money spent in September must be matched by an equal savings account contribution (thereby doubling the apparent cost of everything)

These rules are pretty simple, but then, I’m seeing this as a pretty simple exercise.  I’m going to buy the things that I need, but anything else is off the table right now.  In all honestly, it’s a bit of a relief to have some constraint.  In addition to my own feelings of deserving new things or trying to make myself feel better, I’ve been getting a lot of the encouragement from friends and family to make changes in ways that are often tied to new acquisitions.  I know they care and want me to feel better, but it’s time to lay off the spending and get back to frugal living, and having a self-imposed challenge with some clear limitations should help quite a bit.

 

 

 

More retail therapy

Although most of my extravagantly excessive shopping of late has been secondhand, there have also been a few new purchases, which is a rarity for me.  After using the same rapidly deteriorating foam mattress for well over a decade and a possibly starting to mildew futon for the last four years, I bought a new queen sized mattress.  True to form, though, I bought it on super sale ($500 instead of $1700) and used $150 in gift cards to pay for it.

To go with the new mattress in a different size I also got a bed frame and bedding.  The latter was at the insistence of my mother who actually sent me a cheque to cover the cost of new sheets, pillows, and blankets because she wanted me to have a fresh place to sleep.  She’s long been a proponent of clearing stuff out to clear your mind and has seen the separation as a major opportunity for growth and changing around my life, starting with the bedroom (have I mentioned that my parents are fantastic and have been utterly and absolutely wonderful over the past few months?  I am very, very lucky.)

The final result is, in short, glorious.  I’m usually pretty hard on myself about new purchases, but not so much with these ones.  Although what I spent on the bed is probably the most amount of money that I’ve spent on anything in years, it’s been completely worth it.  I anticipate it will last for many, many years.  But even more importantly, I sleep so, so much better and it’s made such a huge difference to my mood, my focus, and my work.