I know, I know! Valentine’s Day and all that

I made pink heart shaped chocolate chip pancakes for the kids yesterday morning and stuck Valentine’s cards in their lunch boxes. I think dinner is going to be some sort of taco thing and we’ll have some ice cream sundaes for dessert. I feel like maybe I should do more but… eh.

Ok, maybe I’ll whip up some delicious brownies. From a box. What? It’s better than Domino’s Pizza and molten lava cakes… right?

When I was a really young, naieve, stay at home mom I loved Valentine’s Day. I made adorable little cards and gift packaging. I made cute foods. I’m too freaking tired for any of that these days. I’ve been in a complete fog all day. I slept badly last night, but had slept well all weekend. All weekend, I picked up and up and up. My hall closet is almost cleaned out completely. I have a “Transit Box” that needs to be emptied out before I drag out more stuff for sorting.

When I sort, I have the following piles/boxes/bags/whatever handy:

  • Trash.
  • Donate.
  • Transit: The place for this item is not in the room I pulled it from.
  • Return: The place for this item IS the room I pulled it from and will return when everything’s ready to go.

That pretty much covers all of my options and keeps me from leaving too much stuff unhandled. I don’t allow myself to keep sorting if the Transit box is full. Moderation, and yet I’m tired. I couldn’t stop picking up and cleaning no matter how worn out I felt. I felt as if my slowing down would mean the clutter and mess would just double its efforts and come back at me like a Hydra (yes, I’m totally trying to catch up to my son in the Percy Jackson series, how’d you know?). It’s this weird combination of draining and gratifying all at once. I polished up my room in a break from the closet/office and it felt so nice. I demolished some more laundry that I’d neglected the past couple of days. I kept the kitchen in tip-top shape. Despite the chorus in the back of my head reminding me it all comes back somehow, some way, some day. Yes, and no.

As I’ve created it, I’ve also been putting my new Home Office to use as a way to sort of test what works and what doesn’t. My use of the plastic file box has surprisingly gone much better than I’d anticipated. And in my sorting, I found all of my missing tax returns going all the way back to 2003– the day after the transcripts I’d requested from the IRS arrived. I’ve implemented a system to manage the kids’ school papers that’s worked pretty well so far. You never think there’s lots of papers to really deal with, but there’s enough to warrant some sort of management system. Crow, yum. My daughter needed magazines to chop up for a homework assignment and I knew just where to snatch them from– and return them. My son is increasingly curious about Greek mythology (he says he wishes Poseidon was his dad, like Percy) and I remembered I’d owned some books on the topic. I knew just where they’d be, if I’d kept them. And there they were. I was delighted. This whole less is more thing makes a lot of practical sense.

There’s one of me, and three of them. But, because of their ages, really only one is completely capable of managing his own things. Another is pretty capable, even seems to have a natural disposition to doing so in some cases. But, the third is Chaos embodied and a mini reign of terror the other two are either warring against, surrendering to, or gleefully championing with depending on their sundry moods. So really, it evens out to: Me Vs. Them. For now.

Maybe it’s silly of me to place so much stock in the future, but can you blame me? I enjoy the present, I won’t deny that. This weekend, despite a major hiccup early Saturday morning that threatened everything, was as close to bliss as it gets. We had fun– together. But, I know the future likely brings more ease in many ways. There is a major difference in managing a seven year old and a two year old. The seven year old likes to sleep in, read books, and veg out. The two year old, does not. I’m way more seven than I am two. And there’s the whole money thing.

I finished Your Money or Your Life this weekend. It took me longer than I’d anticipated and I don’t know why. I like the book a lot, but I found it very bittersweet. I do believe Financial Independence can happen for me, but many of the steps are simply ones I’m not interested in taking. The “No shame, no blame” mantra is simply one that doesn’t work for me. I was raised by Cuban Catholics, shame and blame are in my blood. Inventorying my possessions, statements of earnings from Social Security, measuring fulfillment month in and month out? I’ll jump off a bridge. But it did make me think a lot and, like me, it believes in giving back to your community upon achieving financial independence. A lot of it just doesn’t seem as tangible as things in Total Money Makeover– not yet at least. I have a feeling I will be returning to Your Money or Your Life in a few years, but right now I have to embrace gazelledom.

The one thing I’ve really taken from it is upping the ante on tracking– especially my income. I’ve been doing that this month and it’s been an eye-opener. I do want to see the whole picture. I’ve been going back through my spending records I’ve been keeping from July and kicking myself for not doing this when I first set out. Yeah, no shame, no blame. Whatevs. But this month has worked that way and I’m glad. I very much like the idea of tracking expenses vs income chart-wise and would like to see that visual representation as I go forward. I tinkered with recreating it but it’s pretty much impossible because of how much I didn’t include previously. If it were accurate, I’d have a lovely cash cushion of about $3k right now and well that’s not true so obviously, there have been major holes in my tracking.

Of course, this all goes beautifully into the update on the No-Spend Month because, in a way, this is the sort of thing that teaches you about fulfillment. Actually, everything I’m going through right now is a very multi-faceted fulfillment lesson so I’m glad I did read YMOYL because that’s one thing it definitely emphasizes that other books skimp on. During this challenge, I’m forced to value every penny. It’s something I could be doing every month and is likely something FIers do. But, it does not come naturally to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t come easily to millions of others out there complaining about so-called Frugal Fatigue. I think the reason this period is so trying and, yes, fatiguing, is because I’m literally re-wiring myself. I’m sitting here and I am learning the art of decision-making on the micro level. Switching off the Auto Pilot is an immense experience and has some really profound implications. That’s why I don’t think many people succeed. That’s why I’m determined to succeed.

If you switch off Auto Pilot on your spending, you have to switch off Auto Pilot on absolutely every facet of your life because money touches everything in one way or another. Think about the effect de-cluttering my home while I’m on a Spending Challenge is having. Here I am, sorting through an overbundance of things while making decisions on what to acquire and what not to acquire. Justifying spending a portion of a very small dedicated amount of money on something you already have in some sort of version is extremely difficult to do. And you know you have so much of it because you’re picking through it all piece by piece, freely letting so much of it go.

The fact that it’s never really done is conflicting. It’s scary in that you understand you have to work at something constantly albeit on a different level of intensity. You know, after going through all of the work to get rid of x number of items from a room, it’s ludicrous to simply go to the store and replace them. And you see the disparities so much clearer than ever before. How does my daughter have almost three drawers’ worth of tops and only one pair of wearable sneakers that are supposed to be used for school only but get used for everything because she has no suitable casual shoes for outside of school? Ditto for Baby although not nearly as many tops. Kids Tops = gazingus pins for me apparently. It makes sense. They’re usually inexpensive, colorful, and whimsical. An adorable top for $3.99 is much easier on the brain to pick up than a good pair of $25 shoes. Duh, Mutant.

Either way, spending was ok over the weekend. Lots of things went out this morning to cover Kid Fundraisers and Extracurriculars ($38). And there was a lunch at McDonald’s for $16.76 with the kids on Saturday after our nightmare morning that was insanely more fulfilling than I’d ever imagined. Total expenses came to $54.76. I’ve got $144.42 and half a tank of gas to go for another 14 days.

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