A Simpler Life

A Simpler Life

Since the beginning of the year, Mr. T and I have been focusing on simplifying. 2015 was a year of crazy home improvements as we checked off all the items on the Alaska Energy Rebate Program. Every free evening was spent in the crawlspace or garage painting, insulating, piping, etc. (I should emphasize that I was somewhat involved after the kids were in bed, but most of this was done by Mr. T.) We were spending lots of money (most of which we got back as a rebate), plotting our next move, and under a strict deadline to finish all the things on the list. When we finally finished it all last December, we were tired. We didn’t want to plan anything specific for 2016 because we just wanted to calm down.

WeΒ wanted our home to reflect a simpler life and we wanted to have downtime to just do what we wanted to do without feeling a pressing to-do list. Around the same time, I was starting to get more and more exhausted. I chalked it up to having three kids and didn’t worry much about it, but I knew I could only accomplish so much in one day before just needing to relax.*

It’s now more than five months into 2016 and things have changed dramatically around the Banks household. We’re much more at peace with our lives now. And while I may express frustration from time to time, we’re happy on our slow and steady path.

SIMPLIFYING OUR HOME:

One of the first things we wanted to do in 2016 was touch every item in our home. We started with our clothes, moved to books, and then started going room to room with the kitchen and bathrooms. I made weekly trips to Goodwill for the month of January and February. No cabinet or box or shelf went untouched. We examined, discussed, and decided about whether or not each item in our home was useful or joyful.

Our house is not clean every day or even most of a day. Three kids make messes and that’s okay. I’m still not capable of getting the house spotless everyday. But every single thing in our house has a home. If you point to anything in my house that’s currently on the floor (thanks Lui!) and ask me where it goes, I can tell you. That makes a huge difference. It means our entire home can be “reset” really fast. This was my ultimate goal. Now, I don’t have to stress when both families come to visit or we all get sick in the same week. I used to spend part of those times thinking “How am I ever going to get this house organized again!?” because it never really was before those things happened. Now, I know what our default clean house looks like and where everything goes. I can now sit back, relax, and enjoy Lui throwing his toy beans all over the living room without the stress. After he goes to bed, Mr. T and I can “reset” the living room in a matter of minutes.

SIMPLIFYING OUR FINANCES

I used to use an online service that would monitor all of my accounts and email me when a credit card bill posted and then again a week before it was due. I loved it. Unfortunately, when Lui was born, it went under (and, consequently, I got really sick, had a newborn, didn’t get an update, and paid the only credit card interest and late fee I’ve ever paid in my life!). Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to organize things in a way that made things as carefree as they were then (without relying on something that might not stick around). I had an epiphany as I organized our bathrooms and kitchen when I realized our monthly financial cycles never really ended. All the credit cards were due at different times of the month and we sort of made up which month we wanted to put the charges on our budget.

I made a list of all the bills I had to pay monthly (that aren’t charged automatically): utilities, mortgage, credit cards. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is charged automatically to the credit cards and then we pay the bill in full every month.

Next, I charted when our paydays were. Mr. T’s paychecks pay more of the bills than mine, so scheduling around his was important. I picked two days in the month I would pay bills (since we both get paid twice a month). After Mr. T’s first payday (around the 18th of the month), I pay the utilities and the mortgage. After the second (right around the end of the month), I wanted to pay all the credit card bills. In order to do this, I had to make sure all of my credit card bills posted at the same time before the end of the month (I picked the 25th). I called the credit card companies (I actually online chatted with most of them because it was easier) and requested a posting date of the 25th of each month. One credit card company (US Bank), said they could only set a payment due date, but they could make that so that the posting date ended up being between the 22nd-25th of each month. That works out fine. I highly recommend doing this one thing! Now I know that my spending month ends on the 25th. After that, I can balance the books and track my spending for the month. When I apply for a new credit card, I will immediately change the posting date to the 25th of the month, because that’s so much easier than letting the banks decide!

I’m two months into this new, simpler bill pay system and I love it. I don’t have the fear of overdrawing my account, accidentally missing a payment if I get sick and forget, or overlooking any bills. Taking the time to figure them all out once saves me so much time every single month!

While I don’t like to rely on special programs to remind me about my due dates anymore (thanks to that one time I paid credit card interest! gasp!), using the free tools available fromΒ Personal Capital at the end of each month for my own tracking has also saved me a good deal of time. Our investment accounts are in three different places (Mr. T’s work, Mr. T’s Roth IRA, My Roth IRA). Logging in to each one and tracking them all at the end of the month was tedious. Personal Capital puts them all together (with colorful charts!).**

With these two major changes, our lives have become so much simpler. Sure, we still have jobs, 3 kids, this blog, a home, occasional health problems, etc. But everything is simpler. And simplicity has helped us explore other things. After the crazy travel we have planned this summer, I look forward to seeing what we end up doing with our time. We’ve got big plans, but we plan to take them slowly, naturally, so we can maintain the current peace and contentment we’re enjoying.

How have you simplified your life? Any tips for the rest of us?

*This turned out to just be anemia which should hopefully be resolved soon.Β 

**And if you use my link to sign up, I get $100 and you get to see yourself featured under “extra income” on my next monthly update! πŸ™‚ I’ll even say something like: “Thank you anonymous reader for jetting us towards early retirement by using such an awesome, free tool that I, myself use for these very updates!” I already have my speech prepared!Β 

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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41 Comments

  1. Congrats on finding a simpler life! The beautiful thing about living a simpler life is that there is no formula. It looks different for each person. The best advice I can give is to just start experimenting. If it doesn’t work, move on and try something else. We’ve got a thrift sale coming up in a couple weeks, and I’m taking all of next week off of work so I can prepare for it. I can’t wait to comb through every inch of our house looking for junk!

    • MaggieBanks

      Experimenting! Isn’t that the answer to everything?! Just keep trying! I love it.

  2. thejollyledger

    We have done many of the same things to simplify our lives, mostly because I was starting to get very overwhelmed. I can’t believe how long it took us to get on automated payments. We were still snail mailing our bills last year! Next up on our list is the epic clean-out. Since I am the only one who will attack the clutter problem, it will take me quite a bit of time and so far, I have been successfully putting it off!

    • MaggieBanks

      It turns into a snowball effect. Once you get one area of your house perfect, you want to immediately get the rest of it that way as well.

  3. I’m in desperate need for some simplicity in my life right now. Work is crazy busy, my sister’s big wedding is coming up at the end of the month, and there’s just a whole bunch of other stuff going on. I really miss maternity leave – at this time last year, all I had was my blog and taking care of the kids/house. But I guess that’s what we’re working for – the simplicity of life without work obligations.

    I do have plans for some major decluttering this summer, especially the rental property. We need to clean it out, so we can fix it up, and start making more rental income.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh I’m not saying things have completely calmed down around here… with the anemia, and trip planning, and keeping up the blog and work and managing three kids… it’s been a stressful month around here as well. But somehow it’s a lot calmer than it used to be even so!

  4. The Green Swan

    Congrats on getting everything check off the list in 2015!

    And impressive job on simplifying things in 2016. That is a good idea to schedule all the credit cards to have the same payment date, I’ll have to do that myself. Thanks!

  5. Isn’t it amazing how good it feels when everything you own has a home? When we started majorly downsizing and organizing last year at first it seemed overwhelming but like you it eventually became a reassurance. Just like you I could easily “reset” the house pretty quickly. You have the added challenge of having 3 kids to help with the unsetting but knowing where everything goes certainly does help!

    It’s amazing how the simplification can snowball too. After I cleaned out the house I created more of a capsule wardrobe, and then a capsule kitchen. We simplified our cleaning schedule, our bill schedule, even our errand schedule. Simple has become the name of the game and I love it!

    I’m glad you are feeling more relaxed and less overwhelmed. Tackling simplifying your life is not easy especially with everyday life stuff getting in the way. Hopefully the effort you’ve put in now will benefit your whole family’s sanity and stress levels in the future! Great work!

    • MaggieBanks

      We haven’t moved so far as to end up in an RV! And yes, the 3 kids do make things a bit more tricky for keeping things in order. But at least the older two know where things SHOULD go now, which helps tremendously!

  6. I love the idea of everything having a place. Before we began our trip, we sold a substantial amount of our possessions. This felt like a weight off of our shoulders. Hopefully when we settle down someplace we can remember this lesson and avoid purchasing unnecessary things.

    Also, I can’t believe I never thought of changing the due date of all of my credit cards to one single day. That would definitely simplify our life.

    • MaggieBanks

      I highly recommend doing that. I LOVE having a payday for my credit cards!

  7. Tawcan

    Simpler life is the way to go. When life is simple you have time and energy to focus on something else.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m hoping I can turn it all into productive energy after the trip!

  8. I’m all about the simple life. That’s why I stick to index investing and don’t dabble with individual stocks or real estate or anything else for that matter. I get paid biweekly so the cash inflows are a little more variable than getting paid twice a month. That’s okay thought I track it in excel. All my bills except for rent are due on the 28th (how easy is that!?). So I just make sure I have enough in my checking to cover rent and credit cards and then the rest gets sent over to my friends at Vanguard.

    • MaggieBanks

      Nice! Yes! Investing is so simple when you jsut channel it into the same funds!

  9. Nothing seems to be a better feeling than simplifying things in your life – congrats on that!! πŸ™‚

    I did something similar to you where I just pay all credit card bills every payday. I get paid every two weeks and I don’t ever think about due dates. Every payday, I just log into all my credit card sites and pay the balances and I’m done. I’ve been doing that for the past few years and it’s never caused me to have a late payment and it’s nice to not have to ever worry about those bills.

    As a side note, I’m with you (and I’m sure most parents) on how kids can leave you frazzled when they’re done with their tornado cycle through a room. Our daughter is 5 and we’re currently working on getting her to pickup her stuff. It’s so much easier to do it ourselves so she tends to win the battle most of the time though!! πŸ™‚

    — Jim

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh man – teavhing them to do it themselves is the worst! Lui is only 2 and isn’t helpful at all! πŸ™‚

  10. I recently read the book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The book was, eh, strange, she talked as though inanimate objects have feelings or as though they are alive so you have to say goodbye to them have a nice thought before throwing them away. Nonetheless it did give me motivation to simplify my home. Not in the way she described decluttering, but I guess I can credit reading it for a little motivation. I recently also changed my credit card posting dates and it really is the best decision!

    • MaggieBanks

      I enjoyed some of the things she said. And I agree that touching everything is important. But yes, it is also a bit crazy. πŸ™‚

  11. We’ve automated almost eveything, except that Mrs. SSC still mails in bills for some things… Yep, snail mail. I ask her why and she replies, “Well I don’t want to pay the convenience fee for paying online.” Go figure.

    If I ever get put in charge of the bills (God forbid) I will most definitely simplify, simplify, simplify. That worked well for me when I was on my own. I did like you and ahd the bills set to be due on the same dates, because I kept forgetting about them and getting late fees. Gah!

    • MaggieBanks

      I know! I only did that once, but why didn’t I think of this before! Setting the due date is a genius move!

  12. I remember growing up my mum would always tell me to use the KISS principle with respect to pretty much everything. (Keep it Simple Stupid!) I can’t say that I have reached the point where I would like to be, but I’m working on it… And it sounds like you have made great progress!

  13. It’s so awesome that you are feeling more at peace in your home and with your life. I’ve been on a major declutter streak lately, and am feeling awesome in some areas, but still need to do my office/craft space and then…. the garage. Eek! And I keep meaning to change my credit card cycles per your excellent recommendation — maybe I will go do that now!

    • MaggieBanks

      That has been an awesome change. And yes, our garage needs to be tackled! Maybe in August… πŸ™‚

  14. Sounds like you have a nice system in place. For us, it seems like everything is happening all at once and it’s starting to wear on us. We’ve been decluttering, trying to sell our house, coordinating painting and other maintenance at one of our rentals, and submitting an insurance claim for a messed up foundation at the other. And that’s on top of working and the kids!

    I can’t wait for a more simplified life later this year. I know we’re just going through a stressful phase right now and it’ll pass in just a few months.

    • MaggieBanks

      I hear you. That all sounds terrible. But I’m still totally jealous of the end result! πŸ™‚ Life always happens in cycles. It will be crazy for awhile and then calm down. Having a system in place helps the crazy seem less so!

  15. Kim from Philadelphia

    Maggie, I’m still in awe that you and Mr. T did so many of the home improvements yourselves!

    This past year I’ve also gone through out entire home, reevaluating all items and purging many things. It’s so freeing! I’m happy to pass those things on to others who may need them. Our house feels “lighter”, it’s easier to clean, and the spaces feel more peaceful.

    I was recently at the home of a friend who has a home with clutter, paper, kickbacks, and two rooms filled with plastic kids toys. I actually felt a bit claustrophobic. She believed her kids need all these toys, though we know the opposite to be true!

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh I still feel that way sometimes with our kids toys! We got rid of so much but they still have so much! It’s a constant struggle!

  16. Great post! I couldn’t agree more about the benefits of simplifying all the logistics of life — the fewer things we need to manage with our home, finances, paperwork, and other non-value-add activities, the more relaxed we feel and the more time we have for things we actually enjoy.

    • MaggieBanks

      Truth! Though I’m finding right now getting all the stuff ready for a big trip is quite stressful in and of itself! πŸ™‚

  17. The way we live simple with finances is that bills are paid automatically…Most of them have a line item in the budget, so, I just need to tick it off.
    Also, the fun money is automatically available on an account for fun spending. Easy…
    that being said, we do have a lot of accounts and flows. As most is on autopilot, i would say it is manageable

  18. Yay for simplicity! I also changed my credit card due dates a couple months ago, thanks to your suggestion, and it definitely makes things more straightforward. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one that recognizes the amazingness of this one thing!

  19. Oh, man, this is inspiring. I’m feeling a little crazy and out of sorts with all the home improvement projects I want to complete this summer – just so I can feel “settled in.” I’m trying to balance that with a little recreation time, new frugal practices, teaching courses, a side gig, setting up a new morning routine, this blog, purging possessions, and trying to figure out what I want the next decade to look like. I want to simplify in a big way. I have a tendency to take on a lot of stuff, and then either do some of it poorly or *lowers head in shame* not at all. I bought this house because I wanted a headquarters from which I could really enjoy my life. The house and I both have a ways to go before it becomes that.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s how our entire last year felt. And it was awful. Simplify one thing at a time. We’re still a mess of competing priorities around here, but each thing you simplify becomes one less thing off your plate. You got this Amanda! Don’t try to do all the home things at once. You’ve already made major progress transforming it. Make it as comfortable and organized as you can now and then slowly do the other things.

  20. A4L

    Just discovered your blog, I LOVE this post, I’ve been going through a similar process. I’m just starting out of college and I already feel like I have too much stuff in my apartment. I’m trying to simplify early on so that hopefully it stays easy to manage as I get older!

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