Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up

I'm late to the game reviewing this weird little book, but I just read it over the weekend and it's really stuck in my mind.

I'm a fairly neat person, and I like to declutter. I'm not terribly sentimental (example: I throw out Pickle's preschool art projects with impunity!). I have a slightly bad habit of thinking I'll get around to things that I won't get around to (example: fixing broken snaps on cloth diapers) and I definitely have a bad habit of saving things that I think I can make money from selling, instead of donating them as soon as I decide I don't need them anymore.

Even so, this book gave me such a kick in the pants.

Basically, the author says to ask - of every item that you own - "does this spark joy?" Most decluttering books encourage you to find things to get rid of (Flylady's 27 Thing Boogie, for example) but this one asks you to focus on what you want to keep. This slight but fundamental difference in approach becomes huge when magnified by each and every possession in your home.

For me, it helped identify the guilt aspect: the things I was hanging onto because I used to love them, or thought I should love them, or because I wanted to get around to making/fixing/doing/reading it someday (even though I knew I wouldn't), or because someone had given it to me. If the item is tinged with any of those things, it cannot also spark joy for me, and so this question has helped me identify a LOT more things to get rid of. All the old cloth diapers, books upon books, almost an entire closet full of clothing. I haven't gone through the kitchen yet but can already think of things to donate. It's obscene, really, to see how many things I have here that I don't love.

Another thing the author suggests is to thank your things for their service to you. She takes it a little too far in the woo direction for my liking (thanking your handbag each day for its work? Um.) but the general principle of appreciating what something did for you when it came into your life - even if you only wore it once or had fun imagining what you would do with it, that's enough. Acknowledge that, and pass the item along.

Combine those concepts with her approach to organizing clothes, and frankly, I'm astonished at the difference in my home in just the last three days. As I job-search in earnest, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about all the things I didn't accomplish while staying home these last three years (cuz, you know, I wasn't busy from dawn til dusk as it was!). So I'm trying to clear things out in anticipation of truly never having the time to do it again.

Have you read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up? What did you think of it?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Back on the market

Peanut and I have decided to radically shake up our lives. I suppose there are a couple ways we could do this, but we decided to go for the one that will (hopefully) have the best long-term impact on our finances.

I'm going back to work.

Staying home with kids was always only a temporary plan, made necessary by Pickle's health issues. As those have resolved themselves, I've wondered how I would know when the time would be right for me to go back.

The reality is, it'll never be right. Someone will always be too small or daycare will always be too expensive or it will always be easier for me to be home to have dinner on the table. But I'm not fulfilled staying home - heck, some days I'm not even happy to be here, and Peanut has carried the burden of supporting all of us without the freedom to take some career risks himself.

It'll be big changes, for sure. And who knows how long it will take for me to find the right job. I've found some that seem perfect on paper, and I've had two interviews, so that's promising. I've started researching child care. I've started thinking about what can be outsourced (housecleaning?) and how our routines can be altered. I've started daydreaming about talking to other adults on a regular basis.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much in case the job search takes a while, but I'm excited about the future! (And, yeah, this is why we're keeping the old Mazda for now - we each need a vehicle that can transport children if they're going to be in daycare.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part II: The Happy Ending

So, after we realized that the Mazda5 was not the car for us, we went to a couple of new car dealers to just see what was out there (new dealers mainly because they were the ones open on a Saturday night when we decided to do this. We never considered buying an actual new car.).

That gave me some ideas, but then a few days later I had the chance to drop the kids off with my mother-in-law and go to a CarMax. I had poked around their website and liked that they had a bunch of makes and models available to see all in one place, and (ha!) most of their vehicles are previous rental vehicles so they were exactly what we were looking for.

(Just to head this off, this is also not a sponsored post, but I'm a pretty happy customer.)

I went in and had a chat with the salesperson, who told me up front that he gets paid a flat rate per each vehicle sale, as opposed to a higher commission for a fancier car and a lower commission for a more basic car.

We walked around and sat in a bunch of different cars, and test drove a couple. I liked two of them, and arranged for Peanut to come in that evening and test drive those two and see what he liked. They were about $5,000 apart in price, with the more expensive one right at the top of our price range. He ended up test driving only the less expensive one (a Rav4), liked it fine, and we bought it.

I wish it was that simple - it was a mountain of paperwork that took forever while I fed Pickle treats out of the vending machine and my mother-in-law drove Baby Bear around in circles in the parking lot so he'd stay asleep. I hope to never finance a car ever again simply for how long the process took!

Because, yeah, we did finance part of it. We put down $5,000 of the total cost (it was right around $18,000) and financed the rest at the lowest interest rate our sales person had seen in months (1.95%!). We also upgraded to a remote starter, which is simply astonishing in how it has made my life wonderful (and it's not even that cold yet!). We had it checked out by our personal mechanic during the five day period when we could return it with no consequences, and it got a clean bill of health, although I did end up having to take it back in the first month to have a tire patched (luckily the tire pressure light had come on during Peanut's test drive, so it was fixed as a warranty issue).

All in all, it was a great experience. And even better, I really like the car - it's so much easier to get the kids in and out of the car seats, it feels safer and sturdier, it gets really good gas mileage, it fits all my stuff in it, and there's more leg room up front. And the remote starter! How wonderful to start my car from the house, and dash the kids out there after it's all warm. Brilliant.

Oh, and what we will be doing with our old Mazda? Well, the plan was to sell it, privately, since we figured we could get the most money that way. We're waiting to have it detailed, but we might end up keeping it after all. Ch-ch-ch-changes are afoot!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part I: The Fake Out

I have only ever bought cars from private sellers, cash on the hood, so to speak. But this time around, we weren't really sure what we were looking for, or how we wanted to buy, so we went a different route.

First of all, I did some researching online. I knew I preferred an SUV to a minivan, but I really like the sliding doors of a van (I can't tell you how many times someone has parked too close to me in a parking lot and I've had to do all sorts of weird contortions to maneuver a kid through a six-inch-wide gap.) I narrowed it down to a long list of SUVs and a very short list of minivans, and the car that I thought would be a perfect mix - the Mazda5.

Then I started looking for one to test drive, with some strict criteria. We were looking for recent model years, low mileage, and a good deal, and preferably not a high-pressure sales environment. There were no such vehicles with clean titles in our area on Craigslist, and we couldn't find any at any close car dealers either, so we started looking at rental car fleet purchases.

I found out about this from the keychain on our last rental car - most large rental companies let you buy specific vehicles out of their fleet. It gets inventory off their hands with little effort, and the cars are priced a lot better than dealers, since the rental car company doesn't have to deal with a third party inflating the price. And as luck would have it, Hertz had several Mazda5s to choose from in our area.

Now, the way the program works is that you are selecting a specific vehicle from the fleet (whereas when you rent a car, you rent from a category). So you have to wait for your specific car to be returned if it's out on rental, then to be cleaned and inspected, then to be delivered to the rent to buy location. So we knew it wasn't going to be a fast process.

The first car was supposed to be ready for us to pick up on a Saturday, but we never received the confirmation call to go get it. We kept checking with the office and finally got the news - the car had been wrecked while it was rented out and was totaled. So....bummer. They had a second vehicle with similar mileage and price in a different color, so we signed up for that one. We were supposed to pick it up two weeks later.

This time we got the news the day before we were supposed to pick it up - the vehicle had been returned in such "disgusting" condition that it could no longer be sold. I have spent far longer than I'd like to admit wondering what someone could do to a car that would make it so gross, and what they do with such a vehicle since they can no longer sell it. What's wrong with people?!

So, third time's the charm - we reserved yet another car, at slightly higher mileage and with a slightly lower price. We picked it up two weeks later.

Now, one of the things that I really liked about the Hertz buying program is that you get a three-day test drive. If you like the car, you keep it and do the paperwork online. If you don't like it and return it within two hours, there's no charge. If you return it later than two hours but within the three-day period, you pay a decent rental fee and there are no further obligations. I like this because it gives you a chance to test drive the car in different situations (day, night, city, highway), see how it will fit in the garage, see how it works with your car seats and all your strollers and groceries, and everything else.

Now, keep in mind that we started this three-day test drive blind - we hadn't driven any other cars and all my research had been done online. And it turns out that we hadn't even started the car up before Peanut and I privately each had serious doubts about this being the car for us. (Before we drove it, we checked it out extensively inside and out - after all, you are committing to this particular car so you want to make sure that everything works like it's supposed to and all the features are there.) After driving it, we were even more sure that it wasn't what we'd hoped for. So we returned it the next day and started from scratch.

All those weeks of waiting and being faked out...just to realize that we should have spent an afternoon at a Mazda dealer checking cars out before deciding that this was the model we wanted. Lesson learned! Decide on a kind of car in person, then see if it's available at Hertz.

(I still think the program is great, and if they'd had the kind of car I ended up liking, I would totally have used them. It was weird that the first two cars didn't end up being available for us, but I think that was a fluke, and I appreciated that they were honest with us that the condition of both of those cars wasn't worthy of being sold. This isn't a sponsored or affiliated post in any way; I just think it's a neat option that not many people are aware of when it comes to car buying.)