Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wardrobe perk

These days I find myself struggling with my strong, strong desire to perk up my summer wardrobe. Clothes weren't an issue when I first started this pledge, since it was winter and I had just bought some new things in December. (an incredible Kohl's sale plus a free $200 Talbots gift card from a credit card reward) The clothing swap in January helped tremendously, too, and I have loved my wardrobe--until it got too hot to wear it. Now those things are put away, and I find myself staring into my closet with dissatisfaction.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with what I have. A couple cute pairs of shorts and capris, some nice t-shirts from Ann Taylor, several summer dresses with matching shoes and accessories. Its fine. I just want something....different.

Normally at this point, I would hit some sales and use credit card rewards to buy myself some new clothes. But now I'm really, really learning to consider the alternatives. I found that taking the time to go through my closet and try everything on--I'm talking an hour or two--helps me to come up with new outfits and make things feel fun and interesting again. Simply making sure everything is washed and ironed and in tip-top shape helps, too. And finding a source of some different things--that helps alot!

I picked up some clothes on freecycle last week--several bags of items from a teenager my size who was moving and had cleaned out her closet. Normally, I wouldn't respond to such a post and would let someone who needed them more than I do get them. But in this case, the giver needed them picked up IMMEDIATELY or they were going in the trash, and hadn't found anyone who could do it. I was happy to help. Teenagers have such fun taste in clothes, so it was really exciting to go through the bags and try things on. Many items were far too "young" for me, and of course many were too small (or at least smaller than I was willing to wear them!) I did find several shirts and tank tops that I liked, along with the adorable swimsuit coverup dress that I mentioned in a previous post. There was a beautiful classic black and white formal gown--prom, maybe?--that I can wear to my husband's company Christmas party next year, and a few pairs of flip-flops. Even though I don't feel comepletely THERE, I feel much better.

In all, I kept about 15 articles of clothing, and removed that many from my closet to make up for it. I went on to re-freecycle everything that was left, plus what I had added to it, since I had the time to wait for pickup of the items. They went to a nice family in the next neighborhood over with several teenage girls, and the mom wrote me to say the girls loved the clothes.

All's well that ends well, and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to struggle with "want" vs "need". That hasn't come up often during the course of our pledge, since our "wants" haven't been too many and there is always such an abundance of secondhand items.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

About birthday gifts...

When our family first started the pledge to buy nothing new for a year, one of the first things we worried about was birthday gifts. However, I had a large stash of clearance-bought toys and gift items for just that purpose, and once those ran out I figured I could always give gift cards. I also thought that I would have plenty of time to learn some sort of skill, such as jewelry-making, and be able to give personalized homemade gifts. Well, the gift stash is gone. I was able to buy from my daughter a few gifts she got at her birthday party that she figured she wouldn't use, and that got us through another couple of months. Now that those are gone, I have just purchased my second gift card and have yet to learn a new skill. I'm thinking I'd better get going on that, as gift cards will eat us alive at this rate.
I'll be the first to say that I am not a crafty person. Its not that I wouldn't LIKE to be--I just seem to lack that 'big picture" vision that others are blessed with, and when my projects are finished they never turn out like I wanted them to. I guess that's why I've dragged my feet somewhat on learning a new skill. This summer, with my daughter home, I hope to break that psychological barrier and solve the birthday-gift problem once and for all.
I did manage to come by a large stash of gift wrap, gift bags, and ribbon/bows from a freecycler, and a friend gave me a big box of greeting cards she didn't have use for, so that porion of gift-giving is covered. That helps alot!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frugal Millionaires

Okay--so I'm not talking about my family. The frugal part, yes. Millionaires--not so much. But I did read a great article about 70 frugal millionaires and how they spend and save their money, and I found it fascinating. What it seemed to boil down to is that these people focused on quality for the money when buying anything, and were able to disregard all social inhibitions regarding new vs. used, designer labels , trendiness and what everyone else was wearing or doing or buying. They most certainly didn't try to keep up with the Joneses, even though financially they WERE the Joneses!
I have found in my quest not to buy anything retail for a year that I have had to disregard all those same things and simply focus on quality for the price. And its amazing to see how little quality there is in some things that are very expensive, and how high quality some things can be that are considered "cheap". And most amazing of all is how willing many people are to disregard the notions of quality and value at all and choose their things for completely different reasons. I was happy to see that poeple who shopped as we now shop are millionaires. It pays to buck the system!
I wrote the other day about how out-of-sync it felt to be at a theme park in our garage sale and clearance swimsuits yet buying season passes without a hint of concern for the cost. Season passes were value for the money and will be used alot. A new swimsuit at $30 when a like-new one costs 50 cents is not. At the time I was still trying to put the concept into perspective, and now I think I really get it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A busy week...

We have had a busy, busy week. It seems like everyone needs to fit something in before school is out for the summer, whether it be one last thing from a school year activity or a kick-off for a summer activity. And I don't mind--its fun to have plenty to do and I've been very proud of my daughter on many occasions this week, but I won't be devastated when things wind down.

In a testament to not having cable TV, my daughter received an award at school this week. For those who haven't heard of the "AR" program, children can read books and take tests over them online through their schools, and be awarded points based on the difficulty/reading level of the book and how many answers they got correct. My daughter got a trophy for the 3rd highest points in her grade. (the boy who had the highest isn't allowed to watch TV at home at all!) And okay--maybe there is no correlation between less TV and more reading, but if there isn't I won't tell my daughter! She also won a trip to a pizza place on a school day, and two days later her class held their all-day end of year party. I chaperoned both with my toddler in tow and remembered why I didn't choose teaching as a career I am capable of. (slightly kidding here, because we did have lots of fun!)
On Saturday we had the first swim meet of the season, and therefore the first 5:30 am family wakeup of the season. I probably don't need to tell anyone that my household wasn't thrilled about that one...
Saturday afternoon we left for a family vacation to San Antonio, Texas. We were able to use some rewards points combined with a company discount to get a great deal on a jacuzzi suite at a hotel near Six Flags Fiesta Texas. It included a small kitchenette area, so I loaded the ice chest with food from home and off we went. We bought season passes and a season parking pass, enabling us to visit all the Six Flags parks at no charge from now on. (and to park there, too--LOL) Since we have relatives living near some of the other parks, we hope to visit family AND the theme parks on various weekends over the summer. (if my family members stop answering the phone after reading this blog, we'll form a plan B.... :)
The whole family thoroughly enjoyed our weekend--the hotel stay was one of the best we've ever had, and the kids AND adults loved the two days of theme-parking. We bought only one meal out and ate our own food the remainder of the time. We find that the kids eat better this way anyway.
As we entered the theme park the first day, I thought hard about the money we'd spent on the passes. I wasn't feeling guilty for spending it--I was wondering why I DIDN'T feel bad about it. One sweeping glance at my family, and I chuckled at the reason why. The kids looked adorable--my son in his freecycle swimsuit with matching terry jacket, and my daughter in her 50 cent garage sale swimsuit with matching skirt that looked brand new. . My bag was packed with their freecycle outfits to change into later. I was wearing my Target-clearance swimsuit from the end of last season, and a coverup dress that I absolutely LOVE from freecycle. (I got a compliment on it from a stranger first thing when we arrived!!) My husband looked dashing in his $3 Target clearance swimsuit, also from the end of last year. We had our bellies full of free hotel breakfast and cups for water inside the park, and I can't even add up all the money we DIDN'T spend that freed up the funds for what we did.
The funniest part of the weekend?? My son had "bed hair" that I couldn't seem to control. I started to fret about it, then decided to leave it be. When we arrived at Wiggles World, the newest part of the park with rides for the littlest ones, we stood him against the measuring wall to see if he was tall enough to ride the rides. He was---but he WOULDN'T have been if it weren't for his puffy hair rising just above the cutoff point. We laughed over that one, and my son had the time of his life. I guess some things were meant to be left alone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Disposing of things responsibly

In the 5 months since our family started this pledge, the part about not buying anything new hasn't been as bad as we thought. What surprises me is that the other part of our pledge, that I thought was a just a tiny part, has proven more difficult. We are trying to dispose of our unwanted items responsibly. I hate to admit that prior to this, decluttering for me involved going through the house with a big trash bag and mercilessly getting rid of what wasn't needed. I freecycled and I saved some things for charity, but when push came to shove, the trash bag was my weapon of choice.
We have changed all that. I'm proud to say that we put only a half bag of trash by the curb each week. Metal and plastic recyclables go to the curbside recycling, and we take paper to the fundraising recycle bin at my daughter's school. Our metal and plastic varies from week to week. Sometimes we have none, sometimes its overflowing. It depends on how busy we are and how hard I'm trying to keep everything fresh and homemade. I am amazed at the volume of paper we discard. Now that I am really, really trying, we have a large load every week. Not just junk mail and the Sunday paper, but magazines, cereal boxes, my daughter's old school work, coloring pages, even down to the tags on our tea bags. I feel good that at least its going somewhere to do be made into something else.
I have actively tried to find good homes for all of our unneeded/unwanted stuff. Most things have been easy to give away on freecycle. Today we brought several boxes of books to Half-Price books. I have a load of misc things to go to charity, another box of various electronics parts to donate to Camp Invention (where kids will take them apart and invent something new), and just one box of such random odds and ends that I honestly don't know how to dispose of it responsibly.
All this sorting and thinking has made my decluttering job drag out far longer than I thought and is alot more work than I thought, but I need to remember that it is a key part to keeping things out of our landfills and avoiding waste.
Who would have thought that the smallest part of the promise would turn out to be the biggest chore?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shopping in the attic

I spent the day today organizing my son's summer wardrobe.....for NEXT year. Now that we have pledged not to buy anything retail for a year, I find myself needing to take stock, plan ahead and be prepared. I am in the very fortunate position of having a brother with 2 older boys. Not only has this paved the way for me to understand why my son needs to climb the furniture and leap from the top of the stairs, but it also provides me with much-appreciated hand-me-downs for my little one. I am doubly blessed that my sister-in-law has an unrivaled combination of bargain-hunting skills and good taste, meaning that her boys--and now my son-- has a wardrobe to die for. Their youngest was wearing a 4T when my son was born, so the "good" clothes trickle in at 3T and hit full-force at 4T. I have diligently sorted and labelled and stored everything they've passed on to us, and I was excited that some of it found its way into the closet today.
My son has grown into a 3T, so today I pulled all of his 2T winter clothes and listed them on freecycle for another family to enjoy. I put his current 3T wardrobe into his dresser drawers, then went to work planning for later.
In his closet, I arranged one area for his 3T winter clothes for the coming fall/winter, and another area for next summer's 4T items. I wanted the chance to go through and take stock of what I have so that I can list what I might need. Once he grows into a 4T, he won't need a thing. I checked his 3T wardrobe for everything I know he will eventually need--Christmas outfits, a Halloween costume, church clothes, dress shoes, socks, soccer cleats for fall, swimsuits, a warm coat, a raincoat, etc and made a list of what was missing. I found that he needs jeans, long-sleeve shirts and warm pajamas. He will also soon need a pair of tennis shoes in the next size up, since he has nearly outgrown the ones he is in and the closest pair in the shoe bin is a size too large.
Now that I know exactly what I'm looking for, it will be easier to buy only what I need at garage sales and thrift shops and avoid having too much of one item and not enough of another. Since I won't need these things until fall, I have plenty of time to be picky and get the nicest things I can find at the best possible price.
My daughter's clothes won't be quite so easy. Now that she's reached the sophisticated age of 8, she is more or less in charge of her own wardrobe and has developed her likes and dislikes. Right now, she has everything she needs but before the summer is over she will have outgrown her shoes and will need some nicer shorts. There are some good consignment stores in our area so when the time comes, we may give those a try. That's about as far ahead as I can plan for her, since styles change and her idea of fashion changes even faster than that.
I spent a small amount of time assessing my own wardrobe, which is so-so. I like what I have, it's all still in good shape and it will get me through another summer if it needs to. I wouldn't mind a few more pairs of shorts and maybe something to perk things up a bit. Luckily, there is another clothing swap coming up and I'm hoping that will do the trick.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A wonderful Mother's Day

There is absolutely nothing more touching than a gift straight from a child's heart. My kids worked so hard on their creations, all the while filled with the excited certainty that it was the BEST gift a mother could want, and knowing their mother would be thrilled--and tell them so over and over. My daughter closed herself into our home office on Saturday and worked for over an hour on this sweet coupon book, wrapping it beautifully with our freecycle gift bags and bows. My husband undertook the brave task of having the kids each paint a flower pot for me. My son decided it would be much nicer to paint the INSIDE of his pot, so that's what he did. :)
This is my daughter's finished creation. She filled it with cuttings from a plant my husband gave HIS mother 30 years ago. She still had the pot he hand-made as a kid along with the original plant growing in it, and she gave it to us when she moved to assisted living.

My son's finished artwork. I love it! He planted pretty "lellow flallers" from Home Depot.

This has been a wonderful Mother's Day! I feel so blessed to have such a beautiful family.