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In an emergency, what would it be like to tell someone over the phone where the details of your life are, your bank accounts, insurances, personal papers, tax statements, bills, passwords?

What would it be like to in a hospital bed while trying to tell your spouse or children where your prescriptions are,  your charge accounts, your banking details, bills to be paid and the like? 


If you are living with someone, how well do you both know where everything is?


Did you prepare your will and declare a health proxy and  conclude that you were all done with your estate planning?  A
 recent New York Times article said there is more to estate planning than just preparing the will. 

We still need a short, clear instruction manual telling someone where everything is and how to gain access to it, including the will itself.

I started to list of all the things one needs to know about our home and economic management, then asked my husband to go over it and amend it as he saw fit. When we were done, we had nine pages of details, all describing essential matters related to the management of our home and other assets.  

In it we listed the following things:

Executive File
  1. Property
  2. Taxes
  3. Lawyers
  4. Physicians
  5. Bank accounts and credit cards
  6. Stocks and bonds
  7. Automatic electronic payments
  8. Insurance policies
  9. Utilities to be paid      
  10. Real estate charges (Home Owner Associations)
  11. Internet communications and computer controls
  12. Property titles and deeds

Forewarned:  We set out to do what we thought would be a quick and simple task.  But it took us almost a week to complete all the details.  

For each item on the list, we took the  time to find all the original papers and file them correctly.  We also threw out old, irrelevant papers that we had kept beyond their usefulness. 

We then listed all our computer IDs and passwords and tried them all out to ensure that they were still correct. 

Another critical task for us was  weeding out all the junk that was filed in between the essential items in our paper filing system.

Here is what we did when describing our home management in our Executive File that we prepared.


I drafted the Executive File.  


My husband then took it and amended it.  


Then we sat down together and reviewed it.  


We were amazed how much we learned in our review.  He had information that I did not, and I had information that he did not.  We took some time out to explain things to each other.

Everything was in front of us in one place, at least temporarily.  We did a lot of searching to find everything that we needed.

First, we wrote up our description and then printed out several copies including all our typed passwords. 

Second, after printing out our Executive File, we then deleted all the typed passwords in our electronic file  and left them blank so we would know they were available, but only in print.  No passwords were left on the computer.
We placed a printed copy of our Executive File with all passwords in our bank safe deposit box. Now a designated person will open the safe deposit box and find inside not only  our Last Will and Testament and copies of our property deeds and titles, but also will have access to our Executive File.

This should make things much simpler for others to help in the management of our affairs.

It certainly makes life simpler for us.  We don’t have so much explaining to do.

For those of you interested in a more detailed example of what we included in the Executive File, see below.


Executive File:  Illustrative Example

  1. Property (List of property owned by address, date of purchase, purchase price, mortgages, if applicable, address and phone of persons providing custodial care, key contractors such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers.)
  2. Taxes (Income, Property, Name of accountant, Location of most recent income tax statements, how each is paid, if electronically, ID and passwords for payments.)
  3. Lawyers (Names and addresses, work conducted.)
  4. Physicians and medications (Names and addresses, list of medications from each.)
  5. Bank Accounts and credit cards (If electronic, ID and passwords, account numbers.)
  6. Stocks and Bonds (Address, electronic locations, ID and passwords.)
  7. Bills including Automatic electronic payments (Electronic bill pays, list all automatic deductions from bank accounts, charges for on-line computer storage, E-Z Pass and other automatic transportation charges for daily commuter travel, list of bills sent via mail rather than electronically.)
  8. Insurance (Life, Home, Auto, Health.)
  9. Utilities  (Phone, Internet, Cable, Electric,Water. )
  10. Real estate payments required (Managerial services of condos, co-ops, mortgages and other loans.)
  11. Internet communications and computer controls (ID and passwords.)
  12. Property titles and deeds (copies and instructions where originals are kept)


I hope that you enjoy doing this as much as we did.  It takes a bit of a push to get started, but once engaged, it moves right along.  Good luck!




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It boils down to steely nerves.

You start by going into a room and  looking at every item in that room.  Ask yourself, “What is it?  How long has it been there?  When is the last time someone used it?”

Then put it into one of two piles:   (1) keep it; and (2)  remove it.

There.  That wasn’t so bad, was it?  Did you end up with anything in the “Remove it” pile?

If you did, then you are on your way.

After having taken that first brave step,  it gets a little complicated

Ask yourself, when looking at the “Don’t want it” pile, whether there might be someone else who would like to have it?  This part is actually fun, sort of like being “Santa Claus”, or “Robin Hood”.  Is there a special little friend, like a neighbor’s child who would really love to have that teddy bear?  Would a neighbor like your extra bed that nobody ever sleeps in?  How about those old pajamas with clouds all over them.  Would they make an entertaining gag gift for a friend?  And that bottle of rum that has been sitting in the basement for over twenty years.  Time to share it with a neighbor?  And all those sweaters that your kids left when they went to college.  They boy next door might like that green one.

Now with that list of items in your hand of things you no longer need or want, allow yourself the freedom to divide the “Remove it” pile into smaller, more detailed piles.  For example,

REMOVE IT PILE
Pile Number 1.  Things to sell.
Pile Number 2.  Things to give away.
Pile Number 3.  Things to recycle or compost.
Pile Number 4   Things to put in the garbage can.

One way to enlarge the size of the “Remove it” pile  is to again look over the things that you already decided to keep  the things that you use every day, or every holiday,  that you like and want to keep because you need them.

But wait a minute.  If you keep looking at that purple vase in the cupboard and realize that you haven’t used it in several years, and suspect that you are just clinging to it out of habit, or that if you thought about it, you really don’t need  it or use it any more because you have two purple vases, then add the vase (or maybe both purple vases) to the “Remove it” pile.

Now we have a new problem on our hands.

What to do with the “Don’t Want It or Remove it” pile?

Keep on piling.

Divide the stuff to be removed from the house into smaller, more manageable piles:

Pile Number 1, things to sell, are those items that you really wish you could keep but you don’t need them any more like furniture and electrical equipment like radios and stereos, for example, but they are too good to just give away, and besides if you sold them, you could use the profits to get what you actually need.  Have a garage sale or work with a consignment shop to get them sold.

Pile Number 2, things to give away, includes all the things you didn’t sell at the garage sale, or that the consignment shop wouldn’t take,  but just couldn’t brave up and throw away, but you don’t really need and really don’t want.  It includes old records, books, games, toys, clothing, and other items that you tried to sell at your garage sale but no one bought or took away.  Find a friend who wants it and give it to them, of put it in a box on the street with a sign that says “Free” and count the minutes before it disappears.

Pile Number 3, the recycling and composting pile is probably the easiest to identify.  It includes broken boxes that would be difficult to reuse, newspapers and magazines, empty wine bottles, extra glass jars, outdated paper calendars, rotting food, and the like.

Pile Number 4 goes to the dump as garbage.  It includes all those things that you don’t need, can’t use, couldn’t sell, and that cannot be recycled or composted.  Hopefully, it is a small pile.

There now, that didn’t hurt a bit, did it?  In fact, it was actually fun.  Try doing a room per day and see what happens.

But watch out, it gets infectious. Soon you will find the neighbors joining in and adding things to your piles of things to be removed from the house, while they also take some items for themselves from your “give away” piles. Just make sure that you give more than you get.

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Facing our retirement head on and looking toward a simpler future, we sold our New York home of 30 years and downsized to a much smaller residence. We now live on a lake in Connecticut in a 500 square foot cottage that has a 200 square foot guest cottage behind it, surrounded by forests.  In our cottage we have what we need.

Guest Cottage

While making this decision I followed a blog called Home Free Adventures telling the story of a couple who sold their California home of many years, put their furniture into storage and became world travelers, choosing to have no permanent residence. Instead, they live months at a time in various places throughout Europe and other selected regions of the world, carrying their clothes on their back and keeping money in their pockets while writing about their experience.

They are minimalists of a different sort than we, but still minimalists.

What we have in common, is that their choice of minimalist life style places little value on owning things and more value on experiencing things.

What attracted me to follow their blog is the exciting possibility of  traveling to new places, and visiting interesting sites, making new friends, having adventures and continuing to keep ones’ passport alive and usefully active. 

I do love to travel.  Our professions took us overseas for almost three decades and we constantly traveled. In addition to traveling all over the world for work, were were also stationed and lived for almost a decade in South and Western Asia. Two of our three children were born in Asia.

You might say that we are “traveled out”.

Even when we returned to the United States and moved to New York,  I practically lived out of a suitcase.  In my 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, our clientele were all over the world and as part of my job, I traveled to meet with them in very interesting locations, urban and rural.  Also as part of my job I visited the Great Wall of China, the home of Gandhi in Mumbai, the castles of Europe, the pyramids of Egypt, the beautiful caves of Petra and the mountains of Afghanistan, the slums of many countries and the war zones of others.  I cherish all that I learned in this process.  It was a great job.

Between the two of us, my husband and I were absent from the home almost 6 months per year. Our children stayed home while the two of us took turns rotating in and out, one of us traveling and the other staying with the children. Our entire family culture centered around world maps and story telling about our various adventures.

Our travel hours were longer than some people’s work weeks.  We really did not want to be traveling quite that much, again, as part of our retirement.

One thing we knew for certain, in our retirement, we wanted a light footprint.  We did not want to worry about frozen pipes, broken furnaces, mowed lawns and snow-covered driveways. We also did not want to keep clutter, thousands of old books, shoes just in case we might need to wear them in some future year, outgrown suits, old sweaters and the like.  We also have a bit of hippy blood in us and because of this, our son-in-law says we belong in Portland, Oregon,that it would fit out life style well. We like to ride bikes, hike, keep small herbal gardens, cook our own food and constantly work to minimize our use of water, electricity and oil.

As you know, there are many different kinds of minimalists.   Part of the fun of retiring for us is redefining what a minimalist is.  Being a minimalist with a family is different from that of an older couple.  We need much less, now.

Some of our neighbors are minimalists of a different type, keeping a grand home with very little in it. For example, nearby is a retired physician and well-known artist/photographer, who keeps a minimalist home up here in Litchfield County, Connecticut that makes our little cabin, by comparison, look cluttered.  Thus, the idea of minimalism needs to be made operational to our needs.

After considerable debate, and partly through serendipity and because we want to be near our three children and their families, here is what we have chosen to do to keep our traveling skills in order and yet to stay put and be with our families:  we reside in three major locations that maximizes the time we will spend with our adult children and our grandchildren:  the Caribbean; the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States.  Operationally, we divide our time between our beach home in the Bahamas, our little cottage in Connecticut and our recently acquired condo in Oregon.

We will see what we will see.  Our adventure officially began in early 2013.

What are the problems associated with this new lifestyle?  Probably one of the biggest problems we have is remembering where the spatula is.  I am grateful that at least we have limited it to one of three possible locations:  the spatula is most likely on top of the counter in a jar in the Bahamas; in the drawer to the left of the stove in Connecticut; or it is hanging on a magnet in Oregon.

One happy result of all this downsizing is that we see a whole lot more of our children and grandchildren, and in a more casual and every-day way.  What a pleasure to have one of our children stop in for a cup of coffee without a six hour plane ride.   In addition, we only own 1/18th of a furnace as part of our condo, for which we are very grateful. We are  making new friends and discovering new places to visit, within a reasonably circumscribed area.  We no longer worry about frozen pipes or broken pilot lights on the furnace, nor do we care if it is snowing.

When we travel we do not take much with us because we keep what we need at each of the three selected locations.

We divided up our New York clothing, shoes, important cookbooks and other goods to put in one of three places and gave away the rest of our furniture and odds and ends to Goodwill, a nearby consignment shop or local recycling station.

It feels so good every time we remove something from our place and give something away.

Our goal is to have one of what we need, placed strategically where it ought to be.

Let’s see how it goes.

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 Our footprint is too big!  We are holding down the fort on a five bedroom, three bathroom home.   We kept the children’s three bedrooms as they left them, expecting that they might come back.

For the first decade after all our kids left for college, they did come and go,dropping off more stuff in their rooms with each visit.  They came home for the summer break, and between summer internships, left for graduate school, came home for weekends and vacations, showed up for short-term jobs, and eventually got their own apartments, leaving more items at home, in their room, and in the basement. They left behind their childhood books and toys, school books, skis, sweaters, jackets, gloves, boots, sleeping bags, posters,old correspondence, lecture notes,records,CD’s, and the list goes on.

Then came our second decade after our children graduated from high school and left for college.  All three or our adult children acquired their own homes or apartments and are busy with careers and jobs, their own families and friends.  We are very happy that they are all independent.  They are now making their own collections of furniture, books and children’s toys.  We can visit them and read their books, sit on their furniture  and play with their kid’s toys!

We are about to go into our third decade since our eldest child left for college.  We see the need to downsize our home to fit our current needs. We are two people with a large network of family and friends. Our children and friends visit, but they don’t live with us except for very short periods of time. As of this year, we are both retired.

We have always had plans, goals, and things to do.  We don’t expect that this will change.  We are making plans for this upcoming decade. One big plan is to have a smaller footprint.

We have a habit of sipping a cup of coffee in the morning while still sitting in bed, and talking things over.  The other day, we decided to list our current downsizing goals.  Here they are.

  1.  Have what we need; 
  2.  Need and use what we have;
  3.  Live simply and respect the environment;
  4.  Keep a place to hang our hat and call home and welcome others into it;  
  5.  Eat nutritious food, sleep well and get regular exercise;
  6.  Enjoy good friends and meet some new ones; 
  7.  Continue learning and develop new skills;
  8.  Be available to our children, grandchildren, family and friends;
  9.  Contribute to our community;
  10. Be appreciative and thankful for what we have and show our gratitude. 
1960’s renovated home
Our children and grandchilddren at the beach

This decision to live more simply happened over a period of time and not overnight.  We started our retirement plan several years ago when we found a 1960’s home to renovate in the Bahamas, and bought it as is, even though we were both still working at the time. It is now fully renovated and we live there during the heaviest part of winter.  We have established good friendships in the Bahamas and live in a wonderful, eclectic community.  We eat a lot of fresh fish caught locally and take our salads from our garden in the backyard and share food through exchanges with our neighbors, both Bahamian and foreign. Our adult children and their families visit us in the winter for long beach walks, ocean swimming, kayaking and family reunions and we all enjoy the respite.

As a second step in the direction of downsizing and living more simply, we are making plans to sell our home of thirty years.  It is an absolutely beautiful home, infused with sunlight, sitting on a slope with great views of The Palisades, with a lovely garden, and plenty of memories. We commuted to our jobs in New York City from this place.  We brought up our children and schooled them here.  We will always love this home.  But now we are done with the commute, we no longer need this school system and the high taxes that come with it, and we live alone. It is time to share this wonderful house with a family that can really use it.  I know that they will love it as much as we have. 

Storm damage

As a third step in this direction we are reconstructing a tiny lake cottage that we have owned and used for 20 years as a hide away and camping site.  We are taking our 500 square foot lake cottage with a 200 square foot guest cottage and reconstructing it so that we can live in it more effectively.   The cottage is seasonal, small, charming, and outdated.  Our refrigerator is fully functioning and 60 years old (American made, I might add) ; the  cottage walls are crumbling, the floors are tired and after two trees fell on our bedroom during a summer storm, it is well-ventilated It is a 1940 seasonal wooden cabin that was last renovated in 1950.  For years, I have called it “our little wooden tent”. It has a great stone fireplace and terrific access to the lake.  But it needs to be brought up-to-date, and the holes in the walls sealed to keep out extra critters who visit without invitations.

We just started working on the renovation. When we are through with the renovation, it will continue to be a 500 square foot cottage with a 200 square foot guest cottage and it will still be seasonal.  It will be small, charming, and hopefully, up-to-date.  We are renewing the appliances, strengthening the walls, and preparing it to house us in the spring, summer and autumn.

When we are done with the renovation, I plan to stop calling it “our little wooden tent” and will hopefully call it instead,  “our little renovated wooden tent”.

It sounds easy to make a simple plan like this.  But, of course, it gets complicated.  In all fairness, we started to downsize several years ago when we found the home to renovate in the Bahamas and chose to live in a t-shirt and shorts for most of the winter. We have now figured out where we will live in spring, summer and autumn, which includes selling our home of thirty years and setting up our new living arrangements for summertime at the cottage. One of our goals is to not own a furnace.  We are almost there.

In the process of getting ready to sell our home, we have some big steps to take.

First, we have to get busy and  sell things, give things away, recycle the rest and put as little as possible in the garbage. We don’t want to downsize by filling up the dump.  That defeats our purpose.

Second, we must store items that might be useful for living in a year-round condominium at a future date and also keep certain items for our children in case they want or need them in the years to come.

Third, we will put our estate plans in order, all papers accounted for, and everything set up for easy transference if something happens to us.  And we have to locate the papers in a place where they are  readily accessible and kept up to date.

Fourth, we will expect the unexpected. Without a doubt, there are all the things that we didn’t yet think about, but will realize that we should have done.  And there are all the unexpected outcomes of our current decisions that we haven’t yet experienced and don’t yet realize the implications.

It could get complicated, but we hope not.  After all, this is a blog about simple living for complicated people.  How complicated can it get?

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Due to the pleasures of grandchildren, I have not written very much on my Blog this spring.  But after spending almost a month on the west coast, we returned to New York to discover that New York is hot and humid!  And the garden looks great.  The peonies have already come and gone, but the roses and lilies are flourishing.
As for grandchildren, I highly recommend the following incredibly expensive toys:  water, a bucket for pouring, and a water hose.  After cardboard boxes and a rubber ball, water is the best toy ever invented.
Children also revel in playpens, if one needs a way to contain them for a few minutes.  But they have to use it as a group.  Its more fun.

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