Where is your money

Where is your money

You  may have noticed a couple links on the homepage that go to websites about money (Early Retirement Extreme and Diva Money Club*). If you check out the About section of this blog, you’ll see that stylish minimalism includes all areas of life: environment, career, finances, health, family, friends, romance, personal growth and recreation. You can apply minimalism to your finances, bringing peace and joy into your life. Today I want to talk about where to start.

I won’t be convincing you to move all your banking online — that’s a personal preference.

Where is your money?

Applying minimalism to your finances is similar to the way you apply it in other areas of your life. There can be clutter of information, bills, statements, e-documents, cash, cards, cheques, receipts, accounts…. and so on. Where are yours? Do you have coins in ten different piggy banks? Receipts bulging out of drawers? So many accounts you can’t remember them all? Do you know where all your finance information is and can you access it timely?

Whether something is for reference or for action, knowing where it is and being able to easily access it is going to make life easier.

Rich people, poor people, people in debt and everyone in between should know where they are, financially. You don’t have to keep a fancy book or spreadsheet. All you need is to know the locations and amounts of your money (incoming and outgoing). And let the clutter go.

Why is it important?

Once you have minimised, there won’t be frantic scrambles or duplication. Just having the clutter gone can save money. And once you know where things are, you can make a plan for improvement – whether that be to get out of debt or to get richer. Knowing where your money is saves you time to access, it saves you money with no late fees, and it allows you to plan. You cannot plan how to reach a destination if you don’t know where you are. You cannot meet deadlines if the information escapes you.

How can you do it?

Please note, I am not a financial adviser. But as a minimalist, I suggest keeping a master list of accounts. You can keep it at the back of your address book, in an online text file, in your head… as long as it is a defined list. A nickname and number for each account should be sufficient. To make sure you’ve got everything on the list, you can leave it out for a month and add to it as you use your money.

  1. Make a master list of all accounts. Note them as paper bills, online access, accounts with a card, etc.
  2. Gather all papers around your house, bags, car, office, wherever.
  3. As you find new accounts, add them to your list.
  4. Recycle, shred or otherwise get rid of papers you no longer need. The bank can always send you replacements if you need them. Read your latest account agreement then recycle it. You do not need your bank’s fee change notices from the last 10 years!
  5. File, if needed. If you like, you can track most things online and only keep the odd paper statement (or scan it and throw the paper away).
  6. Keep the list so you can update it as accounts change, and refer to it as you work on your financial plan.

If you’re underwater or have been spending without budgeting, this may be scary. Please don’t be scared. You don’t need to change your financial behaviours right now. We’re just finding out where everything is.

*Affiliate link

Live the lottery lifestyle

I’ve been daydreaming about winning the big lotto. What would I do with 30 million, 50 million, more? I even bought a ticket just in case. It didn’t win but it got me thinking about what I would do if I had won.

What is win the lottery lifestyle?

Living a win-the-lottery-lifestyle means living a similar life to what you would if you won the lottery. Obviously there will be some differences when it comes to money. You wouldn’t give up your job or buy a new 50 foot boat.

The key question becomes: what comes after the luxury cruise and diamond jewellery? After you finish your year long vacation and travel the world? After you do all the things money can buy, what would you do all day long?

The answer is something you cannot buy.

The answer ties into your life vision. What you would do after the money is something you can start now. If you want to become fluent in Portugese, you don’t need to move to Portugal. Borrow a CD from the library. Befriend your Portugese coworker. Take one evening a month to visit your local Portugese/English language group.

The projects I do now in my spare time I would not stop if I won the lottery. If I won millions my life would certainly change. But I am already enjoying my life without buying the lotto ticket.

Think long and hard about what you would do after the money stuff.

Then start doing it. Or a variation of it.

Wouldn’t it be something to win the jackpot and tell the reporters, “Oh, I’ve already been living such a great life, this is just a bonus.”

Good luck and share your thoughts below!

The exception rule

There can be an exception to every rule (Carefully avoiding the paradox)

The rules of the game

In every program there are rules. There are rules in regimes of exercise, mindful living, positive thinking, minimising, cleaning your house… Someone has crafted the rules. The rules may be scientifically determined, proven anecdotally or just plucked out of thin air. You can find rules in books, clubs, websites and you can make them up yourself.

In the self-improvement section of any bookstore you will see the myriad of “solutions” – which means there is no ONE way. Humans are not ultra rigid. There must be room for bending, for a gray area. As long as the general trend is towards your goal, it’s ok. This is not a license to go about life at random. And it’s not a win-all excuse. It’s simply the reality that we are not perfect.

Make it your own

As thoughtful adults we have the freedom to choose. Will I follow this program? To the letter? What can I change? What can be dropped? What works for me and my life right now? Any program should be flexible enough to bend and fit you and your lifestyle. If not, you’ll need to bend, which isn’t a sustainable solution. You can bend for a week or a month, but eventually you’ll need a break before you can go back to it.

For example, if you eat processed, fast food every day and want to become an organic vegan, take it one step at a time. Don’t take the program full on, full time. To make it permanent, flex the organic vegan lifestyle so you just eat one meal a week in the new way, or partially in the new way (maybe just organic, maybe just vegetarian). If the second week you don’t even eat one vegetarian meal, that’s an exception. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed and need to wait until Monday or New Year’s to start again. Make any exceptions you need to enhance your life.

The exception

The only exception to the exception rule is where you submit yourself to a set of rules. For example, you receive pay in return for following your employer’s demands. You reap the rights of citizenship by obeying a country’s laws. You follow the commandments of your religion for salvation. Still, it’s always your choice if you want to make an exception and take the consequences.


This week, see where making an exception to the rule will work for you. Even if the rules say you have to follow every step, go ahead and try it another way. What benefits do you gain? What are you losing and is it worth it?

The best excuse

I have posted about priorities, motivation and common obstacles for getting started on a life of stylish minimalism. Today I want to address excuses. In short, there is no valid excuse. I believe excuses are a commonly accepted way to claim the desire to change but to not.

But why would someone make the claim? Why do we say, “I really should go swimming” or “I want to finish that photo project” and then follow up with excuses why we haven’t?

I think the answer is usually something along the lines of what other people think. What they expect. Who we think we should be. I have a real problem with living life like this — because it’s NOT LIVING your life. Decide who you want to be, and make no apologies for it. Nobody can argue what you want. And I’m not talking hedonism here. Working on the big picture priorities (your life vision) is not always fun. But turning down other peoples’ priorities is going to happen a lot.

If something is a priority, it’s important. When you know something is important – really important – you don’t make excuses. Instead of saying “I can’t” you ask “How could I get this done?” and start making changes to get yourself there.

If you “really should go swimming” but obstacles come up (and you’re making excuses) I urge you to check if this is really a priority if your life. Once you know it IS a priority, check out this post on how to get and keep yourself motivated.

If you still can’t get started, what’s stopping you?

So what’s the best excuse?

And if you scrolled down here without reading the above, I applaud you for trusting your judgement on what’s important and spending your time accordingly. Hooray!

The best excuse (even though I hate calling it that, it’s more of a reason) is: “That doesn’t fit with the vision I have for my life so I’ve decided against it.”

I’d like to close with an example from my own life. A few years back I started learning how to play the clarinet. I enjoyed it and made great progress in only half a year. When I devoted a lot of daily time elsewhere (4 hours daily commuting plus 3 hours a week studying) I didn’t have time to practice. Music is a priority to me, bringing me peace and joy. So I eliminated everything else less important but still couldn’t make enough time. I made the sad decision to stop playing clarinet. I hoped to take it up again once I moved and finished studying but then I had some children, and they take up even more of my time.

I was realistic enough to realise I will not have time to learn in the forseeable future so I sold the instrument. When someone asked me (taunted me?) if I was still playing, my answer was a guilt-free “No, I don’t have the time.” Without going into my reasons/excuses why I don’t have the time. It effectively ended that topic of conversation. I can’t tell you if the person asking was disappointed to miss out on the “yes, but”  game… but I can tell you I felt and still feel at peace.

If, for whatever reason, you aren’t doing something… that’s fine. Let it go. Don’t make excuses and don’t beat yourself up. I believe in hard work, building your life towards fulfilling your life vision. But if something does not fit into your plan, let it be.

Your true priorities

If you’re not doing it, you don’t want to (enough)

How many times do you hear “I really want to do X?” This gets said and thought all too often. If someone really wants to do something, they will find a way. Ideally, our priorities and actions are in alignment so anyone can look at what we do and see what’s important to us.

Let me start with the simplest step.

If you find yourself saying “I really should …” please take a moment to ask yourself if you actually want to. If not, STOP SAYING YOU SHOULD. Saying it only reminds you of something you will likely never do, dragging you down and making you feel bad about yourself. Toss that thought.

On the other hand, if you do want to do it and this is important to you, now is the time.

Where is the time?

It’s not always possible to find the time; you have to make an effort to get it. For example, I wanted to have an emergency plan and kit in place because my family’s safety and health are a high priority to me. So I stopped writing this blog to make the time. And when that project was complete it was difficult to come back to writing. But since posting here is important to me, I’m making the time instead of lazing around reading novels or surfing the web.

In real life.

The steps are simple in theory but we all know how hard it is to change. Start with one concrete action at a time. They’ll start adding up. Even a little effort brings you closer to your goals.

FIRST: Make a list of what you truly want.

There are no “maybe”s on this list. Daydream about the life you would like. What activities are you doing? Who’s there? If you lost your faculties (sight, limbs, hearing) which would be the most devastating? If you could do only two activities in your free time, what would they be?

NEXT: Stop doing what’s not on the list.

Don’t replace the activity with something else yet, just stop doing things that aren’t on your list. You’re not wasting your time any more than if you were spending it on something you don’t love doing. If you’re doing anything that’s unimportant to you, please stop wasting your precious life minutes on it.

Pick one thing right now that you can stop doing for the next seven days. Let go.

Here are some ideas: turn on the TV/computer 30 minutes later than usual; let go of the unfinished craft project that’s been sitting there half a year; uncommit yourself from the book club that you aren’t enjoying; cut out your gym time that you drag yourself to every other day.

FINALLY: Do what’s on the list. If you’re lucky, you’ve been doing it already, and have given yourself real free time by minimising your activities. I hope you’ll have free time. I hope you’ll have more money. I hope you’ll see life beginning to open up.

Update: Sometimes there are things we should do, for the benefit of ourselves or our loved ones. In this case, we do want to do it, but for the long term reasons instead of the activity itself. So the above still applies… we just need to suck it up and do it anyway. We can look for something positive about the experience and know we’re doing our best.

Emergency planning

I took a vacation from this blog while my family traveled across Canada (a fantastic adventure!) and I’m not quite ready to return yet. There is one project I must complete before I add anything else to my busy schedule:

An emergency kit and plan.

I will be making a kit with information, phone numbers, extra clothes, food, water, and other supplies. Extra copies of important information and our plan go to an off-site location. Each person will have what they need for up to 3 days after an evacuation.

It’s definitely not minimalist but it’s important to be ready. Natural (and unnatural) disasters happen. I want to make sure my family is as ready as possible. If you want more information on preparing yourself, check out http://www.getprepared.ca

I’ll be back once that project is finished. In the meantime please feel free to leave your comments or feedback below.

Colour schemes

Why they matter

A colour scheme is a set of colours that all work well individually and together in any combination. Ideally your colour scheme will suit your personality and looks. You can use the same colour scheme for wardrobe, house paint and interior decorating…  anything you like.

Finding a colour scheme is important because it makes life much simpler. Everything coordinates so there is no clash. And things look better and more planned with less effort. I find it so much faster to shop because I don’t give a close look to anything unless the colour works for me. You could even keep less thread for sewing repairs in just the colours you love.

The plan

You could pick any set of colours but I suggest doing it thoughtfully. It’s more fun to live with colours you love and that make you feel relaxed and comfortable, and ones you won’t get bored with. I suggest starting with about 3-5 colours in varying shades… unless your style is “multi-coloured.” Try these:

  • hire a professional (search for a local wardrobe stylist or interior decorator) or do a mail-order quiz
  • read up on colour theory
  • check out what looks good on you using a mirror
  • use colours you are consistently drawn towards. Is there a particular throw pillow or scarf you love?
  • pull out the clothes you always wear/love/feel good in/know looks good on you – use those colours
  • experiment with combinations of paint chips, polyvore items, photos, magazine cuttings

The colours you pick are your personal choice. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen them before together or if someone remarks on the unusual combination. These are the colours for your life. If they work for you, that’s enough.

The implementation

You could throw away everything that’s in the wrong colours and replace them with items in your colour scheme, but that’s wasteful. Other ways to try out your colours are to wear neutrals and accessorise with colours to try out how they feel. Slowly work away by replacing items (when needed, if needed) with things in your colour scheme. You can carry swatches while shopping if that helps you remember the precise blend you like. I prefer to buy only custom clothing because I can choose fabric in the perfect colour, as opposed to the in-fashion-at-this-moment colour. I can’t always afford a dress maker though, so I sometimes make my own clothes and get a tailor to custom-fit them for a professional finish.

Ongoing maintenance

There is one decision to make when keeping your life within your colour scheme. At the very moment you are considering buying, making or accepting something ask yourself if the colour is right.

  1. If the colour falls within your scheme, check other points to see if it fits your style and budget. If so, enjoy!
  2. If the colour is not in your scheme, consider if you want to add it. If so, grand. Is there a colour you need to edit out to keep the scheme current? Part of getting the right palette is trial and error.

If you decide not to add the colour, DO NOT BRING IT INTO YOUR LIFE. Be strong and hold fast! If something is almost the absolute right colour, or if it’s a really good price or feels comfortable but isn’t in your colour scheme, put it down and say a firm “No thank-you.” An exception here and there will bring you a collection of uncoordinates. Being picky leads to the benefits listed above.

Have fun and enjoy your new colour scheme!

What are you waiting for

The work required

If you think stylish minimalism is for you, there are plenty of action steps already covered in previous posts. If you’ve been working through them, that’s great! Please post your comments about how your life is changing. If you haven’t quite started yet, this post is for you.

As much as we love silver bullets, the journey of minimalism involves work. Just reading this blog won’t change your life. It takes time and effort to go forward. It’s easy to come up with reasons why we can’t start. But all these reasons are just excuses. It’s time to move past the excuses.

What are you waiting for?

No matter the answer, there is always the same response: Do you really want to be a stylish minimalist? If your answer isn’t an enthusiastic YES! then I suggest spending your time on something you do really want instead of reading this blog.

Here are some common excuses and some suggestions on how to move past them.

I don’t have enough time.

  • Declutter your commitments. The next time someone asks you to do something, say no. You don’t have to make excuses. Your life is yours to dole out as you see fit.
  • Spend less or no time with technology. TV, internet, games, email, phones… they devour time. Turn it off and use the time to declutter for 15 minutes then enjoy that space for the next 15 minutes.
  • Rearrange your life. If you’re losing big chunks of time, you might need some drastic action. I was once commuting 4 hours a day. Moving closer to work gave me some time back.
  • Where are you spending your time? What can you live without doing? Minimise it!

I’m too tired.

  • Get more rest. Make the time (see above) but instead of more activity, go lie down in bed or sit outside.
  • Cut out any activities you don’t need to do. The ceiling lamps don’t need to be polished every week. I carry around my children less as they get heavier, saving me some energy.
  • Take a sabbatical. Take everything down to zero so your day consists of sleeping, eating, light exercising and resting. Even a weekend of rest can make a difference. Stay home and do the bare minimum.
  • Where are you spending your energy? What can you live without doing? Minimise it!

I don’t know where to start.

  • You can start anywhere. The important thing is to pick a place and get started. Jump in wherever you are.
  • Let go of your perfectionism. If we wait until we have enough time to do the job perfectly, it’ll never get done. Minimalism is a lifestyle, not a destination. Even a little effort will product some results. I try to keep the top of my bedroom dresser minimal, even when the rest of the house is in chaos.
  • What place catches your eye and drives you crazy? Minimise it!

My partner doesn’t want to be minimalist.

  • Be stylish yourself. Minimise your personal posessions and commitments. Accept that you can’t change others, only your own actions. Realise you’ll have to compromise on some things as part of being in a relationship.
  • Check your values. Talk with your partner about why you’re doing this. Discuss your similar values and how minimalism applies. For example, it’s important to my husband and I that we save money for travelling. Therefore we don’t use our resources on consuming more than we need.
  • What can you minimise that doesn’t affect your partner? Start there!

What else is holding you back? Leave a comment if you would like some suggestions on how to move forward.

Decluttering and minimising

The difference

There is a distinction between decluttering and minimising. Although they’re based on the principle of less is better, the mindset when decluttering is moving from lots of stuff down to less. When minimising it’s about going from the bare minimum up to a thriving minimum. The questions we ask when decluttering are: Do I love it? Do I have another one? Do I use it? Regularly? When minimising, the questions are slightly different: Do I love it? If I didn’t have it, what would I do? Can I live without it?

The distinction is subtle so here’s a concrete example. I had a garlic press and used it every day because I always put garlic in dinner. When I decluttered, this little tool stayed in my kitchen. When I minimised, I gave it away and used my chopping knife for the job. It took a little more time to mince but less time to clean! Just because you use something every day doesn’t mean you need it.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to minimise down to the bare living essentials. There will be things that you keep because you love them and every time you look at or use them they make your heart sing. That’s what stylish minimalism is all about. There is a point between decluttered and empty where there is calm of minimalism fused with inspirational style. There could be a minimalist out there who keeps their garlic press.

Which one to use

If you have a lot of stuff, start with decluttering. The objective is to own things you use and enjoy often, and nothing more. The guidelines for how often depend on you. Once a month, or every week in season could be a useful guide. If you’re already clear of clutter, go to the next level and minimise. The objective here is further paring down things that you can happily do without.

Step-by-step decluttering

I love the FLYlady 15-minute technique. The key to this is that you declutter/minimise for a set time. After that time, even if you’re not finished, you stop. You don’t get distracted and start detail cleaning, or working on a project you found, or putting something away in the other room, where you start doing something else. You pick an area and work there for 15 minutes straight. You can do 15 minutes once a week or three times a day. No matter how often, you will be making progress. Even after 15 minutes there is a sense of accomplishment. Here are the steps.

  1. Pick a small area.
  2. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Start with a shorter time if you need to.
  3. Take one thing. Decide where it goes.
    • If you love it, use it or need it… keep it. Find a home for it, but don’t get distracted
    • If you’re ready to let go or have a duplicate, sell or donate it.
    • If you’re not sure or feel guilty about letting it go, put it in a box, write the date on it and put the box away. Whatever stays in the box for six months or a year isn’t part of your life. You probably don’t miss it and neither does anyone else. You don’t even need to open the box… go ahead and give it to the local charity.
  4. If you finish before the timer counts down, start on another section.
  5. When the timer beeps, stop! You’re finished unless you want to take a break and go again.

You can use the same steps for minimising. But since there’s less to start with, it might be easier to analyse things as you see them. Or pack things away and take them out as you use them, discarding the unused items after a set time.