Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Emerald green: painting everything

I've been mildly obsesssing on emerald green lately.  (Ikea sofa, anyone?)

Since my budget is limited to a can of paint, I bought a can of paint.  Benjamin Moore's Clover green.

I didn't test any swatches before buying, because I was READY TO PAINT!  It was....a little too kelly green.

I brought it back to the store and had them add more color to the can.  And then more color again, until they said "this is at saturation, we can't add any more. And the can is full."

I took one of the living room white diptych paintings and painted over it with green.

I also painted the dresser in the foyer, which is impossible to get a good picture of.

So! I love the green dresser, and I love the green painting.

I do not love the green in my living room. It looks very Christmas carnival with all the red and green.

Too many colors!  I can't tell you how many times in the past decade I have regretted buying a red leather chair.  It has dictated the design choices in every room it has ever been in.  If only I had bought it in a nice neutral brown leather. One of the design lessons I have learned is that colorful curtains and pillows are much easier to replace than expensive upholstered furniture.

I exhausted my burst of decorating energy with all that painting.  Christmas stays for a few days (only three months till Christmas!), or until I can figure out something else.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

living room rearranging, paintings

Since I still don't like the living room, and don't want to spend any money on it, I rearranged it.  Again.  

Last we saw it, it was a box with too many straight lines and furniture that didn't quite fit or line up along pleasant sight lines.  And the paintings were meh.  

It is still a box with terrible sight lines, but I moved the tan sofa back into the reading nook off the kitchen, and brought the Beast and the red chair into the living room. 

It feels more open and less boxy.  

I also improved the paintings--I layered one of the white ones with about four more layers of paint.  I swapped out the other white one for the blue one that we made for Mother's Day a few years ago. 

I like the paintings together.  I want to get rid of everything else in the room and start over.  (Perspectacles, perspectacles, perspectacles....)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Perspectacles: living with ugly beige

The entire inside of our house is painted beige.  Flat paint, with swine-y pink undertones.

I admit defeat in the face of this unrelenting beige.

I like and own mostly clear, jewel-toned decor.  Clear, strong, vibrant colors that look good against white.  All these strong jewel tones next to a peachy, muddy-undertone beige.

Everything I do in this house just looks wrong. The furniture, the art, everything--it doesn't look good against the walls.  It is driving me nuts.

You might think this has an obvious and easy solution--paint the walls!  Sadly, under the terms of our lease, and our nitpicky property management company, we are not allowed to paint the walls a different color.  Even if we were allowed to paint the walls, I don't have a ladder that could reach the upper walls in the vaulted living space, which is nearly half the downstairs.  So, swine beige is here to stay.

The other obvious solution--get some muddy-toned decor!  Uh, no. I am not replacing an entire house worth of jewel-tone decor with muddy-undertone decor I don't want.

The real solution here is putting on my perspectacles, and be thankful we got this house.  It fits all our stuff. It has new laminate floors and easy to use brand new widows.  It has three toilets and a kitchen that works.  the air conditioning is cold.  When I turn on the tap I get running water--two kinds! Hot and cold!  When things break I am not responsible for fixing them. There are two parking spots in the driveway, and a bedroom for friends and family to visit.

In lieu of showing you something pretty in my house, here are two pretty living rooms full of beige and brown.  You'll notice that all of the complementary colors in the rooms are muted, muddy tones.

via BHG

via Katie Rosenfeld

What difficult-to-fix thing do you dislike about your house?

Friday, September 18, 2015

frugal living: tracking all the dollar bills

In the interests of frugal living, I decided that we needed to get a better handle on our money.  The Mister and I are not profligate wastrels, but nor are we all that concerned with balancing our books down to the penny. I balance my books to within a hundred dollars. Ish.  Mostly. An accountant I am not.

I have my own little system of accounting.  It is an Excel spreadsheet.  It has a list of bills to be paid, date paid on, confirmation or check number.  It served me fine for years.

The problem with the Excel spreadsheet is that it looks mostly backward.  The rent, the electric bill, the gas bill, the car payments....these are fixed bills that I can usually predict either exactly or near to how much money they are.

Then there is the credit card bill.  We use the credit card for 99% of our expenses.  We pay it off every month.  Using the credit card allows us to rack up travel points and track all our expenses.  This bill is a backwards-looking bill--on September 1st I will pay off the entire August balance.  I can see as August goes on that the balance is going higher and higher, and maybe that we are getting close to going over budget, but it doesn't tell me, unless I download all the transactions and sort and categorize them, what I am spending too much on. What I wanted was a forward-looking budget.

About a year ago, I started with my sister the engineer's monthly Excel spreadsheet, which was mildly more complicated than mine.  Too complicated. I used it for a few months but kept up with my own simple worksheet.  And it didn't help me track my approaching budgets.

I slacked off on that for a few months.  When we moved to this house I decided I had to get back on the horse and figure out how to budget.  I am 41 and hold an advanced degree, so you would think this would be simple at this point in my life, but I went to law school because my math skills weren't up to being an engineer like everyone else in family.

I am familiar with the cult of Dave Ramsey.  I read the book. Eh, its fine.  We don't have credit card debt, we live mostly within our means on a monthly basis, and I am lukewarm to the concept of buying everything with cash, especially in light of our using credit for travel points.  I didn't do much with Dave's favorite concepts.

There are plenty of websites that have already done the comparison shopping for you on different financial websites (see here and here).  I won't give a full breakdown, but I will tell you what worked for us.

A few years ago I tried out but I wasn't that serious about it, and while it was a nice way to look at all of our accounts in one place, I wasn't all that into budgeting, and eventually it fell by the wayside.

When we moved a few months ago, I reactivated my account.  I also started using the budgeting function, which I like.  In fact, the budgeting function is pretty much the entire reason I use Mint.

When you log in, the budgeting page looks something like this:

Like I said earlier, I am not so much into tracking All The Pennies.  I also don't like being told what to do, even when I am the one telling myself what to do.  (Nobody puts Baby in a corner.) My "budget" needs to be structured, yet flexible. If I want to go out and have a $600 lobster dinner or Jimmy Choo shoes, I need a budget that will allow me to do so. (I haven't, and I won't, but you can't tell me that I can't, see?)  The budgeting system in Mint allows me to do so.

I set up my budget with our total monthly income.  Then I made up smaller budgets within the budget--rent gets a budget line, tuition gets a budget line, and all the other fixed costs get a budget line.  Then I set up categories that I know I use on a monthly basis but aren't a fixed cost, like restaurants and medical bills and haircuts, and give them an amount that I think is reasonable.  I can adjust them if I find myself spending much more or much less than what is budgeted.

Lastly, every dollar not already accounted for goes into the "Everything Else" budget.  If I go way over budget on a different budget, this is the category the extra gets pulled from.  For example, because our water company changed billing rates and billing cycles this month, we got two water bills in one month.  I took $50 out of the Everything Else category and allocated it to the Utilities budget.

Want to hear something interesting?  Our monthly discretionary spending has remained nearly the same for our entire marriage.  Ten years ago when we made a quarter of what we do now, we spent nearly the same amount on the "everything else" category.  (What do we spend the increased 75% on? Rent, tuition and medical bills.  Tuition tuition tuition.)

Things I really like about Mint:

  • It logs into your banks/student loans/car loans/financial institutions automatically and gives you a picture of your entire financial picture.
  • You can run reports with charts and graphs.
  • It tracks every transaction you make (assuming you have linked all your accounts that you spend out of), so you can see exactly what you are spending on.  It was an unpleasant surprise to discover I spent $100 in a month on Sees Chocolates. (April was a difficult month. Don't judge.)

Things I don't like:

  • Despite multiple attempts, I cannot get two of our loans that are handled through third parties to sync with the program. (It connects easily to most financial providers, but we have a car loan that is handled by a third party vendor and I cannot get it to sync.)
  • Because it is a free service, there is a lot of advertising on the site. 
  • The modeling projections for investments are kind of simple.

While trying Mint, I also decided to give a trial run to the You Need A Budget program.  Five years ago, I bought the YNAB program and just couldn't figure it out/get it set up correctly.  (Math again!) (Yes, I started both Mint and YNAB years ago and abandoned both of them.)

YNAB also has a crazy cult following.  I haven't run into crazy Mint followers, for some reason, but YNABers are a vociferous bunch.  They love that program and run all over the internet yapping about it.

I don't like it.  Luckily this time I just downloaded a trial version.

YNAB is not automatic.  You can download transactions and then import them into YNAB, but the program essentially works on "you buy something, you whip out your phone and record it in the app yourself."  Because it makes you more aware of you spending your money.  Or something.

I am all about lazy management.  I buy something, I whip out my phone and look at Mint, and hey, there it already is, done for me, and hey girl, best stop buying so much chocolate cuz the chocolate budget is approaching the limit.

Also, I admit defeat; I just couldn't get down with the math.  I had trouble again setting the damn thing up correctly, and in the end simply removed all the credit card accounts out of the budget.  There are many how-to videos on how to use it, but it was just difficult for me.  YNAB is set up on a zero-sum budget, which means you are living on last month's money.  My current system is half of last month's money, and half of this month's money.  It just gave me a headache.  I stopped using it before the trial was up.

If you like to plan your life down to the last penny, and enjoy doing all the work yourself, then YNAB may be right for you.  People who love YNAB REALLY love it. I am not a fan.

Lastly, I tried Personal Capital.  It is sort of Mint-y--it is automatic and tracks all your spending, but the budgeting function is meh.  However, it is REALLY GOOD at investment modeling.  How much will you pay in fees over the course of your investments? How much do you need if you have a drawdown rate of X or Y? What if you want to pay for college?  It is really good at modeling different scenarios.

Cons: Although it is free and doesn't have advertising, they make a concerted effort to sell you on their investment and financial services.

I am currently using Personal Capital to track our investments, and Mint for everything else.

Do you budget? Do you use a program, or just your own method? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

William Morris: we are (mostly) all out of crap

In direct contravention to discussion in previous posts, I went on a decluttering binge in the garage.  I'm not quite done yet.  But, for the first time in forever, as the song goes....I have enough empty space in the garage that I can park a car there.

This is the first time in my entire life I have not had a garage and attic and basement crammed full of stuff.

Clearly I can't park anything in there until I get those four boxes of old paper shredded and the uncomfortable chairs sold on craigslist.  But still! Get rid of the chairs and boxes, and (one) car would fit (in this two car garage)!

In one of life's little ironies, the garage door opener stopped working  the same day I finished the garage. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

the guest bedroom

My parents are coming for a visit soon, and that's about the only thing that has inspired me to get the guest room done.

Previously on the blog, it looked like this:

I did put up the orange trellis curtains and donated those white lamps, but otherwise, haven't done much in there.

I didn't anticipate having a room refresh for their visit, but the bed has been the repository for our white winter comforter, and I thought, goodness, my parents will swelter and melt if I leave that on the bed.  So I brought in a green summer cotton quilt to change it out.  Then I thought hmm, remember this bedroom?

So I dug out the navy curtains, put out the green quilt, and voila, whole new room.

Everything in the room came out of the decor stash in the garage; I bought nothing.  The art over the bed was painted by my grandmother. (The ponies have moved to the Princess's bedroom.)

Frugal decorating!  I still have a decent stash of decor (art and curtains and pillows, I can supply a village).  I have noticed that I've gotten to a point where much of what I own works with everything else.  I've got a base of dark blue in nearly every room in the house, and a lot of green/pink/orange/reds.  Not everything goes with everything, but still, I can put together a room with a navy blue base and any of the above colors without shopping, mostly.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

State of the Blog: people change

For the last decade, decor has been my hobby.  Ever since the Mister and I first moved in together and bought enormously overscaled furniture for our teeny-tiny apartment, making a pretty home has occupied most of my spare time.  Things have changed a bit over the years--I've added babies, cooking, special needs, and IEPs to my voracious list of reading materials.  But decor was always a hobby, something I did to relax.  Making things with my hands and producing something that added beauty and value to my life was pleasurable to me.

I also started this blog at a challenging time in my life.  I had three kids under four.  We were broke; we had sold our home at a pretty big loss and moved 100 miles away into an attic apartment so that we could all be together instead of the Mister commuting over five hours a day.  I met very few people and had a really hard time making friends in that town.  I started the blog looking for community and a sense of belonging.

I also wanted some intellectual stimulation.  I had quit my job as a law professor and wanted something to occupy my mind beyond wiping up bodily fluids. (There's a lot of bodily fluids with a newborn, a 19 month old and 3.5 year old.) I do think there is value in design--would you rather sit in an easy chair or a church pew?  Would you rather spend your time in a windowless basement or a light-filled gazebo?--but much of my "intellectual stimulation" focused on decor shopping.

I won't say that all good things come to an end, but I will say that I've slowed wayyyy down on the decor front. I used to look at a room that needed painting and a new furniture arrangement and think "squee! Something fun to do!"  Now I look at that room and think "ugh, my time and my money."  Decor just isn't giving me the same pleasure that it used to.

The past few years my focus has shifted from blogging about decor every day to focusing on providing the best opportunities for my kids.  As they've gotten older, their needs have grown more intense.  Their needs have also grown more expensive, and those needs take priority over spending money on decor.

I also haven't needed the community I found through blogging as much as I once did.  While I still enjoy reading other's blogs and commenting, I do so much less.  I've found friends here in California and my sense of community is stronger outside the computer than in, for a change.

Over the past year or two I started really reading up on minimalism, because I felt that my interest in decor was waning, and I was looking for something else in my life.  Mindless consumption of decor wasn't helping me feel good anymore.  I started decluttering and purging, and while I havent missed much of the stuff I've gotten rid of, I haven't felt the need to keep going with that.  I get mild "ugh, ALL THIS STUFF" feelings every so often, but I don't have a feeling of being overwhelmed by stuff.

I think I figured out what the problem is---I got into minimalism because I was interested in frugal living and saving more money. My children's medical and educational needs are incredibly expensive, and I'm always looking for where I can find more money in our budget.  My problem is not that I'm a frustrated minimalist.  My problem is that I got sidelined into minimalism when my real interest lays in figuring out how to better use our money. (Hint: decor is not the best use of our money when we spend thousands of dollars on therapy and education every month.)

Regardless of whether I am a minimalist or a not-very-proficient frugal living enthusiast, the upshot is--you may have noticed--I'm blogging a lot less than I used to.  One of the drawbacks to blogging mainly about DIY decor is the need to buy things and produce blog content with it.  I'm just not in a place in my life right now where I want to spend time and money on decor.

I feel that the people in my home are what I want to spend my time and money on.  Our home is reasonably useful, filled with comfortable furniture and meaningful items, and the focus for us is creating good experiences, not pretty surroundings.

This is starting to sound like a "so long, farewell" sort of post to the four readers who followed me over to this blog.  It isn't.  I don't want to stop blogging.  I'm just trying to figure out what the next phase looks like.

Have you ever had a shift in focus where what you like is no longer what you like so much, even though you don't hate it, and you want to focus on something a little different?

P.S. Just to keep you on your toes, the next post will be about decorating the guest bedroom.