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Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 7, 2015

So after hearing about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo a fair bit in the media I borrowed a copy from my library and started to read.  After all I’ve had passing flirting with minimalism over the years so I figured it couldn’t hurt.  But to be honest, I didn’t expect to learn much from the book. Damn I was wrong.

For for being a fairly short book Marie manages to pack in a lot of insightful comments on people’s behaviour to our stuff.  The first one to struck me as being hugely helpful is the average person is never taught how to purge or organize anything except in a haphazard way from family or perhaps friends.  So what happens is our homes (no matter how large or small) tend to build up WAY to much stuff.  Now how messy you are will determine how obvious the problem is, but volume still often exceeds what we can reasonably store in our homes.

Then people try to deal with this huge backlog of things but often try to do it just a little at a time which is like trying to swim up a river a foot at a time.  You might make some progress but you are going to feel exhausted from it all the time and likely give up.  So Marie’s solution is simple…do one monster size purge in your life and then you are done (it may take months to finish).  This isn’t to say you don’t need to do a little purging once and a while afterward, but organizing your stuff if pointless until you get rid of a huge amount of it.

Marie’s method is interesting because she doesn’t focus on what to purge, but rather what to keep.  Her criteria of it must ‘spark joy’  as you handle each item sounded weird to me until I stumbled on the idea of  that means: do you love the item?  So by default there is no maybe pile…you either love and keep it or it gets purged.  It’s a somewhat brutal method, but given the amount of crap people own it is surprising effective criteria.

Then to hone your decision making skills she points out a method of doing it by category of object for the entire house instead of by room.  That way you get practice on the easier decision items and work down to the hard decisions like sentimental items.  Her suggested list is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and lastly mementos.   Komono is further broken down into CDs/DVDs, skin care, makeup, accessories, valuables (passports, credit cards…), electronics and cords, household equipment (stationary, pens, sewing kits…), household supplies (expendables like tissue, detergents, medicine…), kitchen goods/food supplies and other.  Your stop point for purge is when you feel comfortable with what is left.

After you do your monster purge then you start to organize things .  At which point most storage solutions are not really required since you actually have like 25 to 80% less stuff.  Then the trick to preventing clutter from all from coming back is to keep everything in its place.  Assign a home for EVERYTHING and put it back when you are done using it.  She cautions not to try and organize as you purge as you will lose focus and then stop.

Overall I’m done clothes, books, DVDs and still working on papers…I got side tracked by having to finish my taxes.  I have to agree with the idea of the monster purge idea as once you get going you hit a sort of momentum that makes the effort of keeping going easier.  My motivation for this is the dream of waking up in  house where I love everything that is there…my neglected items are gone and I can FIND things easily.  She rightly points out without some kind of goal in mind the process really won’t work.

This isn’t to say that some of her ideas are a bit odd like unpacking your purse or bag completely at the end of each day after you get back home from work.   Umm, no thanks. Too much work for no real point. Or that she treats objects like they have personality and you should thank them for their service.  So feel free to ignore the really odd ideas in the book…I am.

In the end, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the book and I am finding it useful so far.  It remains to be seen if I can complete the process, but I’m enjoying the results so far.  So have you read the book yet?  Do you think Marie is nuts or brilliant…or perhaps in between?

What’s It For?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on February 18, 2015

You have likely already been reminded you should be investing some money in your RRSP today.  How do I know that?  It’s the season for it so most people via the 1000s of ads out there are told they really should be investing their money.

Yet I’ll offer you a more basic question than: RRSP or TFSA, stock versus bond, or even index fund or actively managed…..the question is: why?


Why are you saving and investing the money at all? What is the purpose of the investment?


Need a hand? Perhaps the answer is: to retire.  Which is a good idea, but what does that look like?

*longer silence with confused look*

Far too often we save blindly because we fail to really understand what sort of lifestyle you want in your retirement.  After all, depending on the lifestyle you want that will drastically change how much you should be saving and how early you can retire.

For example, let’s say you have a couple who is in their 50s and they have been really good savers and have $500,000 in investments and a paid off house.  Do they need to work any longer?  Perhaps it depends on the lifestyle they want.

If they choose a modest life of mostly hanging around the house, being involved in the local community helping out with a few organizations, reading a lot of books and playing with the grand kids, they don’t really shop a lot and when they do they tend to buy high quality items that last a long while…well depending on the exact numbers they could retire in a just a year or two.  Yep, if they don’t need much income, perhaps $24,000 a year, they could potentially retire shortly.

But if they want to travel the world for four months of the year, enjoy shopping a lot and are real foodies that enjoy all the finer things in life.  Again it depends on the exact number, but if they spend like $5000/month.  They may very well have to keep working until they turn 65 or later.

It all depends on the why.  Why are you saving?  What sort of life do you want to lead and what is stopping you from doing that at least in part right now before you even consider retiring?

The illusion is that someone one choice is better than the other, when it fact, what matters most is which one appeals most to you.  If you have never really spent on $5000/month when you were working, what on earth do you think you will be doing when you retire?

What do most retirees end up spending? It varies but on average they spend $30,000 to $40,000 a year.  That’s it.  No huge lifestyles of the rich and famous, but rather a modest but happy life having lots of time to do those things you enjoy.

You could do less than that if you want, especially if you consider your mortgage was paid off.  So if you aimed for $30,000/year target you could be retired rather easily on $750,000 in investments.  Yep, that’s it. Forget about the million dollar mark, you don’t need it.

So if someone tells you they need at least $2 million or more to retire…I would ask why?  It won’t change the answer in some people’s cases, but more often than not they don’t understand the why and end up with overly large targets.

Instead, take the quicker way out…think about what you really want from your retirement and then plan around that.  The more detail you can provide the better plan you can make.   It won’t also be easy to do, but in the end you at least know exactly why you are putting money into your RRSP or TFSA.

What are you saving for?

The Winter Blues

Posted by Tim Stobbs on February 11, 2015

It’s been cold and dark for weeks now and it is started to impact my mood.  I realized just the other day my capacity for enjoying life seem lower than normal.  It was like the sun had been put on a dimmer and everything just looked a bit more gloomy. Or that things at work that would normally slide right off me have been pissing me off.  I’m not even going to suggest I was anywhere near depression, but rather just a mild seasonal case of the winter blues.

For me this isn’t a normal occurrence, but rather the result of a series of unrelated events that created a perfect storm for me to feel a bit down.  Individually these are all minor events, but they all compounded to make me feel down:

  • My work has several tight deadlines towards the start of the year.
  • Everyone around me at work keeps telling me about their trips to somewhere warm such as Florida, Dominican, Hawaii, California…you get the idea.
  • We have had a few recent periods of extreme cold where basically I’m rarely outside for more than 15 minutes in a day for a week straight.
  • I haven’t taken much time off since getting back to work after the New Year.
  • Our weeks have been a bit busier than normal between kids events and volunteer commitments, so I’m not getting my usual amount of downtime in a the last few weeks.

So what changed to break me out of this?  Well the first event was realizing that I was feeling down.  Odd as that sounds realizing that I do have an issue is half the battle.  After that I could actually take some proactive management of the issue.  I’m not suggesting any of the following will work for everyone, but rather what I’m doing to help me get back more to normal.

  1. Stop focusing on the negative.  It can be easier to get sucked into a world where all you seem to do is focus on what isn’t going well in your life.  The reality is that my situation hasn’t really changed, only my approach to things.  So first up was try to consider the positive of the situation rather than jumping to the negative.  Life is actually fairly damn great for most of us if you think about it.
  2. Do something I enjoy.  Read a favorite book, watch a great upbeat movie or go play with my kids (like build Lego, go sledding or skating).  Don’t just brood in front of the computer reading the new headlines or think about my taxes.
  3. Take some time off.  I’m coming up at a long weekend right away so I’m planning on making sure I structure my weekend to maximize our free time.  Also when I can I’ll try to take an extra day off soon to make a random long weekend.
  4. Get outside.  Over a long cold snap it is easy to hide indoors for a while, but when we get even a moderately nice day I need to go head outside for a walk. Since the sunlight and the exercise will do wonders for me.
  5. Celebrate something.  Perhaps an unbirthday, or maybe this Wednesday needs a little party in the house.  It doesn’t have to be anything meaningful, but rather just a reason to eat a good meal, laugh with some friends and have a good time.  Heck, even having a movie night with the kids can be a great time.

The trick for me overall is to break out of the cycle of feeling bad.  I find it just turns into a endless cycle of feeling worse and worse if I just let this condition fester.  Negative feelings can just feed on itself if I don’t interrupt the process.   Just making an effort to change things often can help me move on to feeling better about life.

So do you ever get the winter blues? If so, on a regular basis or just once in while?  How do you break out of it?