Deaccessioning: A sad post

… Not actually that sad.

Last night we laid out the space and we estimate that between the two of us we can fit in about 11 bookcases in the new apartment.

Currently we have 16 bookcases and 2 built-ins.

Oops.

We’re still working on deaccessioning the relatively easy stuff. I’m down under 1300 books, from a high well over 1500.  My partner has at least that many, too!

We’re going through by areas of the house. Some bookshelves are just full of stuff that can’t go. Others are full of chaff. So we start with the chaff.

Gonna be a lean mean LIVING IN PARADISE machine.

I discovered there are some books I was keeping out of guilt, and now I feel great about letting go of them.  I have some “I’m never going to read this” and “I read this but don’t ever ever want to read again” and “why do I have this?”  (note that it took YEARS into our relationship before I EVER felt ok about getting rid of a book he’d given me as a gift.  But now I know we just have love and a stable relationship, and there will be more gifts.)  There are also books that I realized I can get rid of because I’ve internalized the knowledge that I need from them after many years.

At some point we’re going to end up having to make hard choices. Probably what will happen is we’ll bring way too many books anyway and have to deal with it there in some way.  I’m totes gonna overfill the bookcases we have with double-stacking and all. It gonna be all jenga up inside.  And then who knows?

We could add something moralistic about minimalism or money spent or what have you, but that would just be patronizing, so we won’t bore you with that.  I HAVE NO REGRETS.  Except the regret that downsizing comes with deaccessioning, but sacrifices must be made, and there’s a good library in walking distance to our new apartment.  In the meantime, onto the next quadrant!

#2 notes that they have 13 bookcases, including built-ins, but that’s only because her partner tends to get rid of books after reading them rather than holding on to them.  (Sometimes he’ll be halfway through a new book he just bought and realize he bought it, read it, and got rid of it years ago.)  Also most of her newly purchased romance novels are on kindle.

Bibliophiles, how do you deal with not having enough space for books?

Before and after: Housing edition

Before:  big, cheap, stupid, and located in hell

After:  small, expensive, smart, nice and in walking distance to everything– restaurants, parks, shopping, grocery stores, public transportation, THE LIBRARY

I think Imma need these.  You put them under your bed frame legs to get your bed up higher so you can store more stuff under there.   I have some plastic drawers that I can stick under there.  I might get some cardboard ones for sweaters (so they can breathe). or I might put books under there. Or general stuffas! I feel like “random crap” should maybe go in there rather than valuable shelving. Good times, good times

Downsizing sucks.  It’s work. Boring and tedious.

That’s it.

I refuse to talk anymore about apartments. You don’t even know how burned out I am.  It’s MY apartment and even I’m tired of it.

I have one.  It’s nice.  Though I won’t really know how nice it is until we’ve lived there for a while.

The end.

Next up:   I refuse to talk about moving.

Why not just live large while in debt?

Vanessa asks on a GRS post:

I always thought the first rule to getting out of debt was to stop digging, but maybe not? And aside from a few bagels, it doesn’t seem like Honey’s lifestyle has been too compromised. Makes me wonder why I budget so strictly, when I could have a little debt and perhaps be a lot happier.

Kasia adds:

Why are people so negative and critical about someone else’s progress? Consumer debt and mortgage debt are completely different. You have to live somewhere and owning your own home even if you’re paying off a mortgage means you have an asset to your name, renting just means you can be kicked out at any time by a temperamental landlord. Either way you’re paying to live there so why not pay off your own home instead of someone else’s if you have that opportunity?

 

It’s about managing risk. A house can trap you unless you’re willing to foreclose on it. If you already have a good portion of your income stuck in debt-servicing you’re in a very vulnerable state when there’s a job loss or relocation.

In addition, Kasia shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the housing market.  Purchased houses also have a part you’re “throwing away”– mortgage interest, taxes, insurance, and maintenance. In our case, the taxes and insurance alone is 1/3 of our mortgage payment, and of course the interest part is the bulk of the payment when you start with a new mortgage.  On top of that, houses tend to create lots of regular “emergency” expenses (pipes break, trees fall, water-heaters die etc.) that the landlord takes care of when you’re renting.

When you have lots of consumer debt that you’re servicing, a house can add enormously to your risk because it’s a large required monthly expense whether you’re living there or not.  Things may be fine if you can just sell the house when times are bad, but bad times often mean it’s difficult to unload your house, even at a loss.

Living beyond your means is a precarious balancing act. Everything is fine until an emergency that’s too big happens and/or you run out of credit, and then you’re trapped. But if you’re ok with foreclosure and bankruptcy, then well, sure, why not live on the edge? Of course, if you’re high income, you may only be able to restructure debt in bankruptcy, not completely discharge it.

So to all those who are thinking, “why am I making sacrifices when I could just live like ‘Honey Smith’ and be happy?” It is an alluring thought, it really is. And there’s some probability that they’ll make it ok without bankruptcy or foreclosure. But the majority of people who try this are going to end up in bad shape.

So Vanessa– don’t give up.  Being able to spend like ‘Honey’ does without debt and with an emergency fund and with savings feels great (even if you don’t actually do the spending, the ability alone is nice), and it’s worth the sacrifice.  The sooner you start, the smaller the sacrifice you have to make and the quicker you end up with financial freedom.

And Kasia, ‘Honey Smith’ is not a good person to look to for financial advice.

Ask the grumpies: Do I stay or do I go now, and if I go… then what?

Tired of being grumpy all the time asks:

I’m an assistant professor.  I found your blog when looking for advice on dealing with horrible departments.  I don’t like my job and have become a big ball of stress and unhappiness.  I had been looking forward to escaping during my unpaid summer months, but have been given a pile of service and administrative deadlines to deal with (still unpaid).  I’ve tried to find another job without any luck.  I may or may not get tenure.

When I read the post on one of the Grumpies quitting, I, quite literally, had the breath knocked out of me.  It had never occurred to me that quitting without a new job was something that people actually did. My husband is on board with my quitting; he even suggested it earlier this year.

I am hesitant to discuss this with anyone I know– if my department hears, I fear they will choose not to renew my contract.  I’d rather choose to leave than be forced to.  Do you have any advice, thoughts, questions I should consider as I contemplate this new plan?

We both actually have experience with this.  Not only did #1 quit recently, but #2’s husband quit a year ago (pre-tenure) without having any other employment lined up.

Neither quit happened overnight.  It’s hard to quit something that allows a lot of freedom and can’t fire you on only two weeks’ notice.  It’s even harder to give up the potential for complete job security.  Add to that the weird culture of academia where, at least when you’re new, leaving the academic track seems like failure (it isn’t!), and you get people sticking around probably longer than they should.

Sometimes sticking around works out– you can change things or go on to other jobs.  Sometimes you just need a year of leave (and you can often get a year of unpaid leave off the tenure clock to try things out– #2’s DH did that just by asking).  Sometimes it’s just delaying the inevitable.

We both know many other people who have made the jump.  All are happier for it.  We know people who were considering making the jump but with one thing or another they decided they could make it work where they were or they got a job offer at a different place and everything worked out.  They’re happier than they were too.  And we know people who are still working on making the decision.

#1’s experience of quitting was that, somewhat thankfully, it got bad enough that I felt good about leaving.  If it had been less bad, I might still be there.  Perhaps that’s where you are.  It took me a year to decide to quit.  Other people in my department also have exit plans (and every year we’ve been hiring to replace recent exits), which tells you how bad it is there.  My experience has been that quitting my job makes me feel amazingly good, but I don’t think I would have felt that way if I’d left pre-tenure.  I also have financial luxury to faff about until I figure out a new career.  And I might hate my next job, too!  (But at least it will PAY MORE.)

Also, consider this:  it’s likely you can outlast administrators.  However, consider the direction your school as a whole is going in (your department, college, university as a whole).  That was one among many clues that I didn’t belong in that particular place.  It was hard, hard, hard for me to give up an academic career– that is, until I was ready to do it.  Everyone has a different breaking point.  While you’re finding yours, save money like a fiend.  Try to stay sane.  Maybe start consulting on the side if you want to turn that into a new career.  This could be an opportunity to move to where you really want to be!  (Better work environment for husband, closer to family or the beach, lower cost of living, whatever.)

There must be something you love about academia to even go into it.  There are also things you hate.  Are they things you hate about the career, or this particular job, or some of both?  If you can figure out the particular *aspects* that are turning you into a ball of stress, you can look at adjusting them within this job or in a new job.

Things to consider:

Academia is just a job

Pre-tenure angst *read this book*.  If you feel trapped, this book will help you feel untrapped and will give you the tools you need to get to freedom, whether that includes staying where you are with an exit plan or making a big jump.  It will help you turn the risk of losing/leaving your job into a calculated risk, increasing the upside and decreasing the downside.

For the past three years or so, #2 has been talking about getting ready financially for her DH to quit, dealing with him being out of work, and adjusting to his new income, off and on in her monthly mortgage posts.   Savings and lowering monthly expenses create the luxury of being able to make a measured risk.

Are you a scanner?  As #1 says, think about what aspects of work make you happy and read up on what kinds of jobs fit those aspects.  For example, like Cloud, my husband is a scanner, so he likes shorter projects.  He likes working in groups.  He likes figuring out problems.  He needs mental stimulation.  He needs regular validation.  He’s currently getting all of these things in his current job, but wasn’t getting them in academia.

From a practical standpoint, it took #2’s husband several months to get consulting contracts and job interviews, but they all kind of hit at once, probably because of the way hiring cycles and budgets work.  He started lazily networking in May, then more seriously in September, and by November he was working in his new job.  (He did get an unsolicited offer to continue teaching off the tenure track at the university, but had no problem turning that down.)

If you quit, you’re not alone.  If you decide to stick it out, you’re not alone there either.  If you decide to stay for a while and work on a gradual exit plan, that actually seems pretty common.  You can make any choice into the right one, if you can find what fits well for you and your life.

Does that help?

And now, check the comments for thoughts from the Grumpy Nation.

Resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia

In between bouts of sorting, de-cluttering, and apartment hunting, I’ve also been working on my job search. Here’s some helpful links I’ve found during my search.

How to avoid hassle during an out-of-state job search.

I might sign up for freelance editing work on  things like oDesk or eLance (any tips, readers?).  I don’t want to freelance forever, probably, but a little cash here and there might help.  Mostly I’m looking for an office job.

PhDs at Work looks interesting, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on there.  Does anyone want to investigate and report back in the comments?

Miriam Posner discusses what alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs can and can’t provide.

There is a LinkedIn group called PhD Careers Outside of Academia, which is where I found this huge collection of links and articles for scientists transitioning to industry.  (I’ve also been checking out Ask A Manager but mostly for giggles.)

 

Do you have any recommendations for resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia?  Specifically for social scientists or scientists who have some data skills and good writing skills, but only tiny amounts of programming skills, and nothing in biotech/pharma?  Thanks!

August Mortgage Update and what to do with the 30K in the home maintenance fund

Last month (July):
Balance: $49,389.48
Years left: 3.75
P =$1,007.01, I =$207.39, Escrow =788.73

This month (August):
Balance: $46,373.71
Years left: 3.5
P =$1,018.90, I =$195.50, Escrow =788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

As I hinted at last month, with DH employed, we have accumulated a lot of money in our savings account just sitting there (or, more accurately, we didn’t completely de-cumulate our savings from saving up for him leaving his job before he got a new one).  Some of it is tagged for specific things, like tuition and the emergency fund… I guess that’s really it.  So in addition to the amount that’s legitimately in savings, we have more than 30K that’s loosely been earmarked for home maintenance repairs.

Now, before you go and say, “30K?  You should invest in stocks/pay off the mortgage with that are you crazy?”  Note that we have owned this house for almost 10 years and we didn’t change a thing when we moved in.  The only maintenance we’ve done has been completely reactionary:  fixing leaky pipes and faucets, fixing a leaky skylight on the patio, replacing the water heaters when they died, repairing and then replacing the dishwasher when it gave up the ghost and then fixing the new one, replacing the microwave multiple times, replacing the a/c in stages as it died, replacing broken fence pieces, replacing a broken board in the deck, and a whole ton of yard work usually when the HOA sends us a nasty letter.  We also touched up paint in the kitchen once.  And we always seem to be replacing the innards of two of the toilets (DH thinks this may be a waterflow issue).  You know, standard everything that breaks when you’re a homeowner stuff.

During that time we’ve had two kids potty train, and at least 6 cats coming and going.  We have carpet in two of our bathrooms.  We have aging vertical blinds.  We have peeling wall paper.  The paint is coming off in the kitchen.  We have an electric stove.  The kitchen triangle is messed up and the countertops are the cheap kind that turn yellow when you use bleach and, although we have gas hookups in the kitchen, everything is electric.  The kittens have destroyed the master bath, though really the cabinets in there have water damage anyway so it’s not all their doing.  There’s stains on the carpeting and drawings on the walls.  And many more things I haven’t mentioned.  At this point you may be thinking, “Only 30K?  Are you crazy?”

So we’re obviously not going to do everything.

DH has identified as priorities replacing the bathroom carpet with something that isn’t carpet and window treatments.

Warning:  the next few visuals are NOT PRETTY.  Look away now…if you can.

Bathroom carpet + potty training is not a pretty sight.

 

Even if you're in the minority of those who like vertical blinds, these are starting to get ratty.

Even if you’re in the minority of those who like vertical blinds, these are starting to get ratty.  See the watermarks from leaving the window open when it’s raining?  Oops!

And then there’s the tops of our window treatments. We have two sets of these lovely windows. Those half circles at the top are a pain to cover.

Here you see the needlework skills of the previous owner.  Even if you love these top things, they're kind of dirty and we have no idea how to go about cleaning them.  We suspect the fabric will disintegrate if we try.

Here you see the needlework skills of the previous owner. Even if you love these top things, they’re kind of dirty and we have no idea how to go about cleaning them. We suspect the fabric will disintegrate if we try.

I’m going to save you the master bathroom pictures (aka “kitten island”) to present another day.  They’re pretty stunning, but we’re doing baby steps here.  And we don’t want to overwhelm you with awfulness all at once.  We’re thinking of your health here.

So, our first order of business is the kids’ bathroom.  We spent a few weekends looking at sheet vinyl while getting completely ignored by sales people at three different flooring stores in town.  At the first store it sounded like this was going to be a $600 project and we were all, why does anybody do this themselves (as in, why save $300 at most, though DH points out that $300 is a lot for a lot of people and the work isn’t as daunting for people who know what they’re doing better than we do).  But then we gave up on the local flooring places and just went to Home Depot, where the guy was incompetent, but the contractors he sent to the house weren’t.  After the measurement, the estimated cost is $900.  (So according to the home depot invoice, we’d actually save $500 in labor doing it ourselves.  But we’re not gonna, not this time.)

DC1 picked out this tile, or, to be technically correct, ze picked out this sheet vinyl.  It looks a lot nicer in the picture than it does in the sample, but having mosaic actual tile (like DC1 really wanted) is not a good idea for a children’s bathroom because it’s hard to clean and gets slippery.  Vinyl tiles look better, but they only look better with bigger squares and DC1 really likes the pattern of little squares.  Plus sheet vinyl, is again, much easier to clean.  It’s also the least expensive option.

And they’re going to destroy our beautiful baseboards and replace them with ugly quarter-round.  I think this is why people do everything in their bathrooms at once.  DH thinks he can handle getting, painting, and putting in nicer baseboards so he’s going to ask them to omit the quarter-round moulding.

While they’re doing this, we’re also getting a new toilet.  Not only is the current toilet kind of gross, but it has been nothing but a graveyard for new toilet innards.  I swear, the thing breaks every 3 months or so.  So after some research, we picked out this Toto toilet, complete with the stain guard (because DC2 is still potty training).  That’s $300.

So the jack and jill bathroom flooring + toilet is going to cost something like $1500, depending on how much the fancy moulding costs.  We probably should have done it years ago, but $1500 is a lot of money!  Still, not as much as we thought it would cost.  Sometime in the next month or so, we should no longer have carpet in the kids’ bathroom.

As for the window treatments… we’re not sure what we’re going to be doing there, so any suggestions you make now could influence what we do!  There are a lot of options out there, and some of them are better than others.  But that’ll probably be the topic of another post.

What are your thoughts on our home improvement plans?  Any suggestions?

Ask the grumpies: Aftershock

Linda asks:

The book description of Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown notes: “From the authors who accurately predicted the bursting of the global bubble economy comes the definitive look at what lies ahead in 2013 and beyond.”

My reading of this book is summarized thusly: there are still more economic bubbles yet to burst and the global economy is “evolving” and not just “cycling” up and down. The authors acknowledge that it is very hard to accurately predict when this big “afterschock” will hit us. They recommend some employment and investing strategies that they say will help one better ride out the “aftershock,” although they note that one could lose some big returns if one shifts assets too early. The principal author is an economist, but he sounds very critical of economists in general.

The book was an easy read (maybe because there was so much repetition) and it appeals to the part of me that is always concerned that in my lifetime our society will become increasingly dystopian. (Could it be that I’ve read too much Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler?) I’m wondering if true academics such as yourselves have a different opinion or general guidance on what to read to balance out the hype of this Aftershock idea.

Somewhat related: if one had a chunk of cash (such as from the sale of a home), what are the better options for saving or investing it for a short term (2 to 5 years)? I’m starting to think about what to do with the equity I’ll get when I sell my house later this year for my big move to the Bay Area, hence my unusual interest in investing and PF books. I will also be meeting with my (fee-based) financial adviser, but I like to have some ideas to discuss with him first.

 

Lots of economists were talking about the market crashing before it crashed.  I don’t think anybody really understood the *extent* of the housing crisis, but we all knew it was unsustainable and going to crash.  Ditto the earlier tech crash.  We’re actually pretty good at seeing bubbles but nobody knows when exactly they’re going to pop, probably because there’s an element of chaos theory there.  The bubbles in my lifetime have seemed to grow bigger than possible before inevitably popping.

With the current lack of regulation, of course there are going to be more bubbles.  The system is still set up for bubbles.  Government has to interfere for there to be no bubbles (as it did after the depression and again after the S&L crisis in the 1980s), but there’s a lot of money to be made in bubbles and the people with money are the people in power these days.

And yes, the US is growing increasingly dystopian.  This depresses me because I grew up thinking it would get better.  Two steps forward and half a step back.  But income inequality has been broadening and things have been getting worse for the poor.  There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens when income inequality gets bigger.  Very depressing.  (I voted for Al Gore, and I like to think in some parallel universe things are better.  More likely though there’s a backlash in that universe and the inevitable was just delayed a couple of decades.  *sigh*)  One of my (libertarian) colleagues is always saying, “Bread and circuses” and forecasting the downfall of civilization.  I hope he’s not right.  I still have the little fairy of Hope in my heart.

So, what to do?  Well, the standard advice *still applies*.  Bubbles mean you need money in stocks.  Bubbles popping mean you need money in bonds.  We can’t predict when a bubble is going to pop or how big it’s going to get.  So we diversify.

Investing for the short term is the same standard boring advice as well– if you’re going to need the money, put it someplace safe (with lower returns).  Bonds, laddered CDs, etc.  If you feel like gambling, put it in the stock market.  (Because houses in SF are so very expensive, and it’s generally a seller’s market, plenty of folks keep that “short term” money in the stock market rather than pulling it out.  When tech bubbles burst, so do housing prices in the SF bay area, so it isn’t quite as big a risk for them, but that’s a very unique market.)

Even if we go into hyperinflation, you’ll need money in stocks for the long-term.  If society collapses, then probably you’ll need bullets and bottled water more than anything else.  But it’s hard to say.  We’re not prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers