Giving Through My Connections

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Beautiful sunflowers line the outskirts of the strawberry fields in south Tampa

“It’s funny how it’s the little things in life that mean the most
Not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes
There’s no dollar sign on a peace of mind, this I’ve come to know”  

Tonight I will be one of the 100,000+ people hanging out at Centennial Olympic Park watching Zac Brown Band perform a free concert in the center of all the Final Four action. My best friend and I are sneaking out of work early to drive down there and get a good spot before the show starts at 9 p.m. Naturally, the only hiccup is what the heck I’m going to wear…

When I set out on this six-month challenge to stop spending and to give as much as possible, I knew creating connections between people would be an awesome way to give, and it’s something that comes naturally to me. A few weeks ago I met this adorable family at an event on campus. The dad is a student at the university I work for, and his wife is a stay-at-home mom to three amazing kids – two boys and a super talkative and adorable little girl. The kids told me all about a trip they took to SeaWorld two years earlier, of which they seemed to remember every detail.

In that moment I recalled a colleague of mine who said she had five passes to the Atlanta Zoo that she could use as many times as she wanted for whoever cared to go. I asked the kids if they had been to the zoo yet; they hadn’t, but they hoped to go soon. Without hinting at anything, I got contact information for the parents and went on my way.

I emailed my colleague later that evening to ask if she could use her passes to take my new friends to the zoo. She generously agreed. I heard they went last week during the kids’ spring break. I really hope they had fun making more memories as a young family exploring cool animals, and I look forward to the full account as told by their 3, 5 and 7 year-olds.

The funny thing is, once again, it cost me nothing. It cost the family nothing. The only charge was whatever my colleague paid for the passes six months ago, which she uses almost every week. If I hadn’t been actively seeking opportunities to give and connect, this experience could have been missed entirely. I’m so glad I played a minor role in making it happen.

I’m already busy working on my next connection. I love this Santa Claus feeling!

Minimalism and Its Effect on My Finances

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Flowers at Pike’s Nurseries

When I was about five or six years old, my favorite song was Calloway’s “I Wanna Be Rich.” I clearly remember singing it at the top of my lungs while riding around in the passenger seat with my mom behind the wheel. I have no idea what I liked about that song, in particular. I guess it’s just a catchy tune. (For the record, I also loved “King of Wishful Thinking,” “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and anything from Reba McEntire. Don’t judge me.)

Anyway, now that I’m well into my third month of this no-buying challenge, people keep making comments about how my bank account must be looking. To be honest, a lot has changed for me financially, but I never consciously made the connection between the buying fast and the increase in my accounts. I decided at the beginning of the year to save 10 percent of every single dime I bring in – I take it right off the top of paychecks, my sales on Craigslist and Amazon. However money arrives to my account, 10 percent goes directly to my savings (ING, for those curious).

I want to reiterate here that I am not, nor have I ever been, a shopaholic. At first, it was tough to save such a big chunk out of every check, not because I wanted to spend it, but because I worried about upcoming bills or missing out on something fun. Now it’s been four months since I started saving, and I’ve never missed a single opportunity or had it result in a struggle.

Back to the shopping fast. Yes, my savings account has grown significantly. Those “little” $20 bargain purchases of shoes, jewelry and dresses several times a week really added up. Now, they’re of no concern to me. In fact, even after the 10 percent was moved to savings, I still had way more than enough in my account to take care of each month’s bills. The result: I took another look at my 401k, which I hadn’t contributed to in over three years.

No spending (save toiletries, groceries and dinners) has allowed me to not only save 10 percent of my income, but also contribute 10 percent to my retirement account. Are you reading the words that are comin’ out of my mouf!? I save 20 percent of every single paycheck and it doesn’t even affect me. I don’t make any more than I did 4 months ago, but my banks may think otherwise.

Having the opportunity to improve my finances was not even on my radar for this six-month challenge. However, it is a beautiful side effect.

SN: Every time I move 10 percent from my checking into my savings account, I label it “Richest Woman in Babylon,” since that was the book that first coerced me into saving with intention. I highly recommend it! And who knows… maybe this lifestyle change will make those words I sang as a six year old become a reality!

Easter Sunday on the Kayak

♪ ♫ When you dream, dream big as the ocean blue ♪

I spent Easter Sunday morning in a kayak exploring the shores of Tampa Bay with my husband’s 12-year-old cousin, Marinna (pronounced “Marina”). This little firecracker has my heart.

Marinna Jean

She sings. She acts. And she’s as excitable as me. Rarely, you’ll meet someone who kind of… changes you. It’s as if you can feel the difference in your outlook or attitude for the next few days after you’ve spent time with that person. It’s quite impressive that someone as young as Marinna has had such an affect on me.

As I write this, the Nickel Creek song “This Side” is playing, and it’s absolutely accurate of this little girl:

“Take her or leave her she will still be the same…
[She] dreams of colors that have never been made.
[She] imagines songs that have never been played.”

My favorite line of the song is, “Only the curious have something to find.”

Marinna has such a joy for little things like finding a gorgeous field above the water, and bobbing for golf balls that didn’t quite make it across the canal. The amount of happiness I got from those three hours of one-on-one time with a creative, curious and energetic pre-teen has left a mark on my heart.

Marinna and I didn’t go shopping. I didn’t buy her toys or take her to the movies. We grabbed a kayak from the garage and set out for what would become an amazing and memorable morning that cost us nothing. It was the perfect reminder that a minimal life is so much more rewarding than wading through all the clutter. You could argue that someone had to buy the kayak, but if it wasn’t there we probably would have gone hiking or explored somewhere else and had the same result. I want to remember this when I have kids of my own.

We need a world filled with more Marinna’s
… and a dash of Ritalin.

Everything I Wear is on the Floor

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Lucy

I should be working on an assignment for my Introduction to Photoshop class, but I wanted to take a minute to write about the realization I had today. I know I talked about clothes a lot in my last post but what more do you expect? I’m a 27-year old woman with a love for trendy (and comfortable) attire, and I’ve eliminated the option for buying anything new that would allow me to keep up with the times, so I’m making due. Expect most of my posts to begin with a clothing update…

Anyway, back to my realization. I was driving home today and thought about how messy my our bedroom is. We have clothes everywhere, mountains of clean shirts hidden under dirty jeans, a vacuum cleaner that poses as a glorified coat rack, panties strewn across the ceiling fan … it’s just a mess. I considered going on a hunt for the clean clothes to fold and put away, but I hate those dresser drawers because they’re totally stuffed with things I don’t wear.

… er…

Wait a second. I don’t wear what’s in my drawers. But I need to find a home for the clothes I do wear. After about the third speed bump into my subdivision, it hit me. Everything I wear is on the floor (minus dresses bc it’s way too cold to wear those now). What’s that, you say? Everything I wear is on the floor?

‘Tis true. Two months of wearing the same clothes over and over and buying nothing new has led me to recognize the obvious. Without any recent contributions, I still only wear about half of the stuff in my closet + drawers + clothes basket.

I don’t understand! I take piles and buckets and baskets full of clothes to Good Will at least four or five times a year. How can there still be so much I don’t wear?

There just is.

So, while the rest of the world is relaxing, shopping and spending time with loved ones on Good Friday, I will be emptying six, cherry wood, over sized dresser drawers and a closet stuffed to the brim. No rest for the weary here.

How are you celebrating the three-day weekend? 

*The picture above is of lovely Lucy. She’s such a great dog. I’ve been volunteering at the Humane Society for three weeks now, and Lucy is the highlight of every visit for me. She was dropped off at the shelter as a pup and now it’s been three years. I would take her home today if I could, but we don’t have a yard and I don’t think my two cats would be very pleased. I volunteer on my lunch break twice a week (which I started as my ‘plenty to give’ challenge) and every day I walk into the shelter hoping not to find her there. Without fail, there she is, smiling as wide as she can. Knowing that we’re going to play tug of war outside in the park with some old rope toy and run around playing tag for a bit, then she’ll walk on a leash around the yard to sniff out trails left by wild animals. She has a good life. Lots of different people come take her for walks every day, and I’m sure she has her favorites. I just wish she could have something stable, a real home with her own dog bed and not listen to other yappers or late night meows. For now, I’ll be her Tuesday & Friday stability for an hour or so at a time. Man, I love that dog.

Dreaming of Elephants in the Sand

Credit: BuzzFeed.com

Credit: BuzzFeed.com

It’s been 12 days since I started this journey to minimize the amount of stuff in my house and to do as much for others as possible at no cost to me or to them. I still haven’t bought anything for myself, with the exception of dinner, gas and light bulbs, and I’m not experiencing much withdrawal either. However, I have this nagging urge to take a trip. A big trip. I have no idea if the trip idea is compensating for the lack of “buying” in my life,  but I can’t shake this desire for a major vacation.

I had a dream last night that I was in the bathroom at my office, and I took out a photo from my pocket of an elephant with his trunk covered in sand playing on the beach. I just sat there in the stall and stared at it, longing to experience it in person. (I don’t think I wanted to see that elephant in particular, just an elephant on the beach.)

So I bolted out of work and caught a flight to Thailand where I spent one day with an elephant on the beach.  As the sun was going down, I felt the worst guilt for leaving my husband and my job to have that experience. So I went back to the airport and caught a flight home. That’s when I woke up.

I find it interesting that I’m not dreaming about things I’ve quit cold-turkey (ie: clothes shopping, shoe shopping, using a gazillion paper towels to clean up a little mess, being wasteful and oblivious to it). But instead I’m longing for an exotic trip. My husband and I backpacked Spain & Italy during the summer of 2011, and this year we’re spending a week in Vermont at his family’s maple syrup farm. But I can’t shake this deep desire for a vacation to experience something new – something foreign – and something simple. Like an elephant covered in sand on the beach.

What are you desiring today?