The Story of a Couch

buying-a-housej2This is the story about the minimalist (that’s me) who needed wanted a couch.

I suck at shopping. Really, really, really suck at shopping. Most of the time the decision is made for me when it comes to rampant consumerism. I just don’t have room for anything. With only about 200 square feet of living space, one must conserve. No, the answer is not more living space. The answer is to live comfortably, but efficiently. A tricky balance for sure!

Buying stuff is remarkably easy now thanks to the inter-web but also incredibly difficult if you are prone to decision paralysis which I am a fully fledged sufferer.

Pretty much any item over $50 sends me into a panic. It’s not an affordability thing as I recently calculated all the credit I have; a ridiculous amount of over $80,000 Canadian dollars. Even if I bought the need/want couch with my line of credit, the cost would be like $3 a month in interest charges until I paid it off.

It’s an over thinking thing. This is how the overthinking part comes into play. While researching, I check out the reviews in an attempt to be a thoughtful consumer which you would think would help but this makes things worse! Six reviews for the same item naturally will have three reviews saying this is the greatest product ever invented and you are a fool for not buying a hundred of them!

Yet the other three reviews proclaim that this item is the most ill thought, poorly manufactured, over priced piece of merde since that episode of The Simpsons when homer3Homer was given carte blanche to design a car.

So this brings me to the couch. I had an old couch, but it was old and the city is no place for a couch, so it went to a special farm in the country to run and play with other couches and the occasional ottoman.

In theory I don’t need a couch, I have a bed and pillows so that should suffice but deep down my the many levels of craziness, I want a couch. Couches, primarily new couches, are a true sign of adultness. Not investments, not a home, a car, a spouse/children, but a couch.

So this really isn’t about minimalism or couches or even Homer Simpson, but our own lunacy about our lives. When it comes to stuff we are all a little nuts. It’s not the decision paralysis that is making me crazy, it’s the worry about making the wrong decisions that is making me crazy. It’s perfectly normal, some might say sane, to be concerned about making the correct decision when it comes to a big purchase, but we can’t always get it right. We just have to be mindful. So my absolute lunacy about buying a couch is not actually insanity, but me being mindful of what I want to add to my life.

Oh boy, I just realized, I Am An Adult!

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So I Gave Up Meat Two Years Ago

happy-vegsIn 2017, I decided to cut meat out of my diet strictly as a cost-cutting measure because I have a very strict budget and since everything, except my pay, was going up,  I had to make some cuts.

I already ate a lot of vegetables because veggies are cheap and filling and help you poop (more about poop later) and unless you dunk your vegetables in maple syrup or fry them in a vat of oil, vegetables are good for you.

So What is the Verdict?  

Animals, you are safe.  Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, spinach, not so much.

I have no desire to go back to eating meat. I don’t miss it at all. That was pretty surprising. Switching to a plant-based diet was effortless. Nobody was more surprised than me!  Now I am not going to preach to you like the newly converted, it’s up to you if you want to change your diet, but what I will say is that this was a very easy transition.

I wish I’d done this 30 years ago.

The first thing that happened was that after about four days, all my aches and pains disappeared. You know the inflammation you get just by aging. I still have the occasional pain, mostly from overdoing it in the pool or on the bike, but I no longer groan when I bend over to pick something off the floor. I don’t know if I lost any weight, cause I don’t weight myself (see this post for the reason why) but as I run out of estrogen,  I am keeping the menopausal weight gain battle in check. My weight battle is a truce between North and South Korea instead of all out nuclear war. So, by my very flawed logic, vegetarianism prevents nuclear war!

What I like about this lifestyle is that it’s really hard to exceed your daily caloric intake for the day when you are eating a lot of vegetables. There are no calories or fat and not too much carb counting to keep track of because frankly, nobody should have to do complex math to figure out what to eat. Vegetables make you full, and you stay full for a very long time. Unless you are using very sweet sauces, eating veggies controls your blood sugar and keeps hunger in check. I used to be a chronic snacker, but no more. Another surprise.

I have always cooked from scratch because it’s cheaper and healthier so switching to this diet has been an easy transition for me.  If you are considering eliminating meat or reducing the amount of meat in your diet, it might be a bit tough at the beginning but cooking from scratch is a skill and like anything new, it’s going to take some time, effort and planning to get good at it. My best advice is to spend a few hours of your weekend batch cooking and freezing individual meals.

I was genuinely surprised by how my body did not freak out when I gave up meat. I thought there would be some sort of detox like with sugar, but nope.  It was like my brain rewired itself to actually crave vegetables.   I get excited when I think of ways to cook and season broccoli. No, I am not drunk.

And Now the Part About Poop!

poop1Naturally, there are all kinds of health benefits from eating vegetables. Lots of fibre and fibre means pooping. Apparently, as you age, doctors become very interested in your poop. Like weirdly interested in your poop. The whole not pooping thing is bad or having un fibrery poop can means bad things like colon cancer which kills a shit ton of people (oh come on, everyone likes a poop pun!). And of course the eating a lot of meat thing has been proven over and over and over again that too much meat can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease, so even cutting back a little is a good thing.

So Let’s Summarize

  • Less inflammation
  • Stable blood sugar
  • Less hunger
  • Good poop
  • Not dying young

 

It’s up to you to decide if you want to change your diet and all I can say is that I have nothing negative to report about my switch to a plant-based diet. As I see my own generation (Gen X) start to fall apart and sadly, die, I know this is the right choice for me.  Perhaps it is the right choice for you.

 

My Minimalism Flubs

flameI originally called this post My Minimalism Fails but after I finished writing it I decided my fails were more flubs than fails. Either way, none of my minimalism faux pas (I really have no idea what to call them, fails, flubs, faux pas) were harmful but mostly just stupid. And with that, stupid leads to learnin‘.

I still think I have too much stuff but compared to other Gen Xers, I have nothing so I need to stop beating myself up over it. It’s not a friggin’ contest. I think when a lot of people try any lifestyle change, they think/focus too much on perfection rather than the end result of the enviable bumpy road of the project.

These flubs are in no particular order, each flub pretty much have an equal level of not thinking this through.

Okay, if you are keeping track of the wording:

fails
flubs
faux pas
bumpy road
not thinking this through

I had a bike trailer to haul groceries and at my old apartment it worked. I had a bigger, more accessible balcony and lived much closer to multiple grocery stores. At my new place, it was not working. My balcony was the only place to put the trailer and the balcony is long and narrow and has a narrow doorway and an 18 inch metal lip (for the sliding patio door) and lifting the trailer on and off the balcony was hard. I mashed fingers, bashed elbows and bruised and cut my shins so many times.  It was just too fucking hard to get it in and out of the building without drawing blood so I began to dread using it. It was also starting to wear out (I bought it used) so I donated it back to the bicycle charity I bought it at and let them deal with the repairs. I think I got my money’s worth out of it and someone else will appreciate it. I decided to use the car share more often because the extra cost is worth the lack of bleeding.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes you have to spend to be simple.

Why the hell did I wait almost two years to buy a damn hammer drill? The walls in my apartment are concrete and getting anything into them is Very Difficult. I did research how to affix stuff to the walls and I got a lot of conflicting advice from The Google Machine and I thought the drill would be super expensive and might not work and I fell into a giant vat of indecision and sort of hacked getting shit to stay on the walls. Finally I drill bit the bullet and bought an inexpensive hammer drill and now everything is properly secured.
Lesson learned: In hindsight, I would have saved so much time and aggravation if I’d just gone to the damn hardware store and talked to an expert.

I fell into the trap of keeping furniture that didn’t quite fit in my microscopic apartment. I kept it for sentimental reasons and finally after more bashed shins, I had to admit defeat. I found a free stuff page on Facebook specifically for my neighbourhood and gave it away. I met some cool neighbours and was able to give stuff to people who would really appreciate the items. I am not really set up for selling stuff online. I don’t have data or text plan and cell reception at work is sketchy at best so the back and forth communications of online selling is Way Too Complicated. Especially for something that might net $20.

I had a bookcase that was falling apart but was made of really nice hardwood so I salvaged the wood that was not damaged and chopped it up and turned it into, of course, shelves which I attached to the wall with relative ease with my hammer drill.
Lesson learned: Don’t fixate on the financial mistake of doing something or not doing something. In the course of one’s life you are gonna pay the stupid tax no matter how hard you try. The best you can do is to try limit the number of times you pay the stupid tax. I sort of equate the stupid tax with eating bugs. Sometimes you accidentally eat a bug and it sucks, but it’s gonna happen unless you never go outside and it’s kind of gross and annoying but a week later you won’t be dead from stupid tax/bug eating and probably will forget all about it.

The thing I take away from my fail/flub/faux pas/bumpy road/not thinking this through is that it’s no big deal because nobody really notices. The world is a busy place, full of distractions and people are just trying to do their own thing and not lose their minds and eat bugs and they probably won’t notice that you aren’t a master at something you enjoy doing.

The thing that made all the shin banging worthwhile is the calm that I feel when I get home and I am not swallowed by stuff and the energy sucking force that a cluttered and disorganized space does to your soul. That’s why minimalism is so important to me.

This Week on Downton Portage

poodle-jumpingThe last few weeks have made me start to think about stuff. Some stuff in my life is working and some stuff in my life is definitely not working.

So maybe it’s time for a change.

I’ll try not to sound ranty but alas, the way things have gone in the last few weeks, I will most likely fail.

If you think I am going to get into trouble for some of my thoughts, you are so wrong. This being a blog and not, say, a deposition under oath, I can pretty much say what I want because creative writing often is embellished.

This post may just be a jumbled mess of rambling but the big scary truth is that most people don’t read this blog or much of anything I write. I know I should not equate lack of interest with you have no talent but it’s really really hard. It’s really really hard when people go out of their way to change the subject when I talk about my books or out and out lie about reading something they clearly did not read.

I know, I should write for me, not others but being a human being and not a robot, I am sometimes infected with feelings. Sometimes my feelings are hurt.

I haven’t been writing as much as I like because I have fallen into the malaise of why bother. This is just some of the stuff in my life I have to figure out. It’s going to painful and confusing but maybe it will get me writing again because I still think I have something to say even if it includes the occasional fart and poop joke.

I have a job that I used to like but now I don’t like it so much. I realized a few weeks ago I am going through my day with my fists clenched. No I’m not going to punch anyone, the fist clenching is mostly a metaphor. I spend the bulk of my day at work trying to anticipate the unreasonable scrutiny rather than just doing my work.

Work is pretty miserable because I have no control over my success or failure. I can do a great job but I am at the mercy of someone else’s standards or whims. I’ll give you a wildly exaggerated example of how this flawed system works.

Imagine you sit in the cubicle next to Dave. Dave is unreliable and a drunk. Boss tells Dave to complete Project X by Tuesday at 4pm. Dave does not do this. You have nothing to do with Project X. The performance reviewer tells you that you suck at your job and the fact that Dave did not complete Project X is entirely YOUR FAULT because just by bad luck you happen to sit next to Dave. Sorry no raise or promotion for you. Oh and lets micromanage your work because if you could not anticipate Dave was going to fuck up the project that you are not involved in, what other things are you keeping from us?

This is work environment is making me walk around with clenched fists. Always trying to anticipate the whims rather than actually working. It’s exhausting I tell ya.

New Work Rule! We are not allowed to speak to the employees on the floor unless it’s work related. This nonsense is pretty much impossible to enforce and oh so much fun to mock. Are people lurking around just waiting for us to make a mistake so we can be reported? Are there hidden microphones everywhere? And how the hell does one determine what is work related? So many questions! If someone says hi, is that work related? Technically it has nothing to do with bathrooms, kitchens or trash collection. Naturally if someone greets me in the hallway and I scurry away like the lowest of the lowest grand manor scullery maid, that’s gonna send out some pretty weird signals. I guess replying hi is okay. I suppose saying I am not allowed to talk to you is work related then the conversation is not a violation of the rules. Oh my god my head hurts with all this legal thinking. No wonder some lawyers drink.

The horrible ugly truth is that this is mostly my fault. I keep putting myself in a position where I have no control and am at the mercy of micromanaging. I have to pay the bills and not be homeless so one has to make choices even if the results lead to a misery less miserable than being homeless.

I think the writing is on the wall and it’s time for a change. Perhaps wisdom is kicking in to my 50 something year old brain and I’ve decided I’ve had enough of this nonsense. That being said I have absolutely no plan on how to fix this problem. The only plan I have is that I need to do something that brings value to my life and my success should be based on my abilities and hard work and not be determined by luck, unclear expectations and cubicle neighbour Dave.

How I Accidentally Became a 12 Month Bike Commuter

cold-riding

Perhaps I am bit cold today.

February 15, 2018 marks one year of more or less continual zipping around town on my bike. In Ontario.

Let’s rewind a bit. I didn’t plan on biking all year round. It sort of just happened. Last winter I was hobbled by sciatica. It felt like someone was either stabbing me in the left calf or twisting a knife in my left calf, pretty much 24 hours a day. The pain wasn’t too bad if I was walking or sitting but standing still was agony. Sitting felt pretty good so alas, last February, the roads were clear and the temperature okay (for February) and me and my layers hopped on the winter bike and away we went to work.

I also hate having to fork over a day’s pay for damn bus pass.

My ride is super easy. It’s about 3.5 km each way. The only annoying part is endless construction including the bridge to Hull. The already narrow Chaudiere (AKA death bridge) has lane reduction (probably) until the end of time so I ride on the sidewalk. I have to hop off the bike quite often because there are patches of the sidewalk where neither Ontario nor Quebec want to take responsibility for plowing so it gets messy. And nobody appears to be in a big hurry to fix the lights either.

It turned out my rides were pretty easy, not painful and not cold. So I kept going. There were a few bumps in the road for sure. One day, last March, the forecast was for less than 1 cm of snow and alas when it was time to go home at 3pm, there was over 7 cm of snow on the ground. The main roads were clear, I just had to hop off the bike on a path that was covered in snowdrifts and walk about 200 metres and then hop back on the bike. I learned that hopping on and off a heavy studded tire bike is a bit of a workout especially when you are bundled up in many layers.

Freezing rain keeps me off the road because I am, contrary to popular belief, not insane.

So riding in -38C windchill (the coldest temp so far for 2017-2018) was not cold at all because my biking gear is not actually designed for biking and I arrived at work soaked looking very much as if I just biked in +38C weather.

I spent way too much money on bike repairs (for winter and regular bike) in 2017. I hope that doesn’t happen again. Very disappointed in my 2016 Trek bicycle. Broke down constantly and, no surprise, it always seemed to be items not covered by the warranty. I do not recommend Trek at all.

So what I learned was that biking in winter is not an all or nothing thing. There are times when I take the bus cause there is too much snow, ice, laziness in the forecast. Another thing is that biking in winter is kind of fun. I enjoy being out in the crisp air and sunshine and just like in the summer, you are closer to nature and see stuff you wouldn’t normally on the bus or in a car.

And my quads are getting nice and toned. Apparently biking all year round makes you a bit vain.

My CrossFit Workout

I live by a CrossFit gym and see the members running, carrying, dragging heavy things, and it dawned on me, getting groceries is my CrossFit routine.

I have all kinds of crazy rules about food because I have no willpower impulse control with treats so I don’t keep treats in the apartment. The apartment is very small so there is no room to stockpile things. The only thing I stockpile is pop because it’s so heavy and difficult to bring into the apartment, so when it’s on sale, I buy a lot. There are no ramps here so one must wrestle a cart/trailer into the building.

front-entrance1

Because I don’t have a lot of room to stockpile, I tend to buy 3 weeks worth of groceries. That’s all that fits in the fridge/freezer, no I can’t buy a freezer, there is no room because my main living space is 189 square feet. So when the fridge is empty, it’s time to restock. There is no food waste and I admit it, I have tossed a few ingredients together in a pot to make one last meal and some concoctions have been delicious and some down right disgusting. I’m glad to report, the delicious outnumbers the disgusting.

I don’t like to eat out because I don’t care to re-gain all the weight I lost. If I want a treat, the rule is to get off my ass and go get it. Usually my lazy ass wins that battle and I don’t get the treat.

Hurrah for laziness!

I often roast and season a bunch vegetables and put them in the fridge and that’s what I munch on if I find myself participating in a little mindless eating. Or snack on a piece of fruit.

On Friday I buy my $2.99 veggie pizza and fancy chocolate bar as a special treat.

These are my rules and they work well for me.

When it’s nice out, I hook up the bike trailer and ride to the grocery store. Just like the CrossFit folks, this involves a lot of dragging and lifting of heavy things.

1. Bring trailer and bike downstairs. I have to do this in two trips because the elevator is too small to fit me, the bike and the trailer. It takes me about 10 minutes to bring everything downstairs and to hook up the trailer.

bring-downstairs

2. Ride to store (3.7 km), about 20 minutes. Thankfully it’s uphill on the way there! I will not lie, it totally sucks when the wind is strong!

3. Buy groceries. Load groceries into the cart.

4. Oh look, get some work on my arms when the bike topples over while I am loading the trailer.

tipped-over-bike

5. Ride home hauling about 90lbs of groceries in the trailer. Today was an extra special workout because I hit all kinds of red lights on the way home and got to stop and start many times while hauling the 90lbs of groceries. My legs will hurt tomorrow!

6. Lock bike in front of building.

7. Drag trailer to back of building and prop the door open with a rock. It’s much easier to unload down a few steps rather than up two sets of stairs and through two set of doors. 

backdoor

8. Unload some of the groceries because if I try to move the cart down the four steps with 90lbs of groceries in the trailer, I will either break the trailer or pop a tire. So unload a bit, move the trailer down the steps and reload the groceries.

9. Fit me, the trailer full of groceries into the small elevator and then roll it down the hall into the apartment. There is only about 2 cm clearance to get in and out of the elevator so I have to be careful or I can knock out the pin that secures the tire.

10. Unload the groceries and park the trailer in the corner of the apartment (it’s too cumbersome to move on an off the balcony and I just will smash various body parts and/or scratch the shit out of a limb). As you can see, the trailer has a fair amount of cargo space.

empty-trailer

11. Retrieve bike from downstairs.

This takes me about 90 minutes and I do this because despite all my whining about it being hard, I do get a good workout and since getting groceries is so physically demanding, I am very selective about what I buy. I am not going to waste space and overload the trailer with poor food choices.

Now if you excuse me, it’s time for my Friday treat! I have earned it!

choco-treat

Let Then Eat Cake!

cake1There is a reason the quote Marie Antoinette never said still exists.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about this subject for quite some time but held back because I worried about offending people. Then I realized the following things:

  1. People will not read the post and will not be offended.
  2. People will click Like on Facebook but will not read the post and will not be offended.
  3. People will read the post and will not be offended.
  4. People will read the post and will be offended.
  5. People will read the post and feel uncomfortable about the subject matter.
  6. A bunch of other scenarios that I can’t think of right now.

Wow, that’s a lot of realizing. Anyhoo, here goes.

This post is about resources. I thought about it a few weeks ago when the creepy old man who lives two doors down felt this need to grocery shame me when I unloaded my groceries. He offered unsolicited advice about my purchases without understanding the context or frankly, knowing anything about me. He probably thought he was doing me a service and felt perfectly justified in his comments. I felt like punching him in the face but he’s kind of creepy and he gives off a I might end up chopped up and shoved into his freezer vibe so I exercised self-control and gave him a dirty look instead.

There are people in this world with lots of resources and there are people in this world with fewer resources. Obviously there are millions of different levels of resources but this post is about my observations and I will try very hard not to turn it into a rage filled rant.

When you look and sound like the middle class but aren’t the middle class your days can be filled with ignoring or deflecting insensitive comments. How people end up with or without resources is complicated so let’s just say for whatever reason, some have more and some have less.

It’s hard to tell if people are just being clueless or assholes or a little bit of both. It’s also hard to resist telling them off.

Just because someone has fewer resources, it doesn’t mean they are dumb so stop treating them like they are simple-minded. What I mean is that giving them helpful advice like “get a better job ” or “move to a cheaper apartment ” isn’t very helpful. They know they have a job that isn’t the best or they are already living in a cheaper apartment. Just because someone has fewer resources, it doesn’t mean they don’t know how to Google.

I hate to tell you (not true, I sort of want to tell you this, you smug bastard) but you aren’t as brilliant as you think. The person with the shitty job isn’t going to say “Wow Sally, I am just so dumb. Why didn’t I think to get a better job? Oh Sally, you are so clever and I am lucky to have your around to enlighten me with your unlimited knowledge and wisdom.” Sally, this makes you look like a jerk. Nobody needs a smartypants to point out the obvious.

Helping someone out doesn’t mean offering what you think is help. All you are doing is saying is that you cannot be trusted to make sound financial decisions so I’ll just do it for you. What you may think is important might be item #493 on their list of things they need. You might pop over to Steve’s house and see that he has a pathetic 22″ television set and offer to buy him a proper manly sized 52″ TV so he can enjoy the big game. It sounds nice enough but now you’ve put Steve in an awkward position. Steve can accept the 52″ television set even though Steve hasn’t had TV services for years because he can’t afford it. What Steve really needs is to get a filling replaced and getting his tooth fixed would make a huge difference in his life. Don’t be an idiot and only offer help on your terms. Don’t force Steve to sell the TV so he can pay to get his tooth fixed and that’s why he never invites you over to watch the big game. Do Steve a favour and fix his tooth otherwise you are just punching Steve in the face which is kinda mean cause he’s got a sore tooth.

It might come as a surprise that people might resent you when flaunt your resources. People might find it, oh I don’t know, elitist when you drone on and on about all your expensive gadgets or how your cleaning lady raised her rates again. All you are doing is further isolating a person who already is socially isolated.

Two is greater than one. Two income earners, please stop offering financial tips to single income earners. That being said, if you don’t have a job and you mooch off others, then you don’t get to have an opinion. When I say mooch, I mean sit on your ass all day and do not contribute to the household in any way and gobble up resources rather than contribute to them. You are living off someone’s hard work. Yeah, I know, that person is letting you mooch but seriously, adults do not mooch. They get jobs and contribute and they certainly don’t whine about their cell phone plan or the injustice of a $17 hamburger.

Stop treating thrifty people as cheap. Nobody should be shamed for stretching a buck, especially when stretching a buck is the way they can afford to pay their rent every month. It’s not like it’s a kooky hobby.

Some people don’t have the money to solve a problem by spending. They have to use other resources to resolve the issue. You might not understand their challenges but please respect their budget.

I can’t tell you if everyone feels the same way as I do about resources, but what I have outlined is my experience. If there is anything, anything, you take away from this post is that you might want to recognize that it’s mentally exhausting trying to balance tact and just wanting to tell someone off. I just want you to think about this post and think about how you use and share your resources.