What is the path to perfection?

Sometimes it seems like people think their lives will be some sort of perfect ideal, for example, if I can run marathons or keep my house clean or organize the crap out of every minute of the day… or whatever the latest fad is.  (I guess those fads were several iterations ago… as I finish this post it’s minimalism and Frugalwoods-style frugality… can you tell we’ve been finishing up and scheduling old drafts?)

But these internet fads aren’t magic bullets.   Some people love marathon training and some people don’t.  Some people enjoy cleaning and some people don’t.  Some people need more organization than others or have situations that make compartmentalization necessary or optimal.  It’s great to try these things out, but if they don’t bring the solutions you were looking for, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with *you*.  Even if they work for someone else whose blog you read, especially someone who is trying to sell products along with that perfect lifestyle.  They are they (them?) and you are you.  Different strokes.

It’s important to realize that choices are choices and not referenda on what your values are or maps to what other people should be doing (unless that map inspires you).

Enjoy the journey, and reach for the destination, even if you never get there.  Or if you like where you are, enjoy that too!

Be who you want to be.  Find *your* bliss or just live out your life — not every life has to waste time worrying about bliss or optimization.  Make your choices your own and don’t be bound by what the patriarchy or society or your parental unit has been telling you all your life unless you want to be.

And of course, “an it hurts no-one, do what you will.”  There’s limits to freedom, even in touchy-feely posts.

I hate the way I’m more racist when I’m tired

When I’m tuckered out I am SO bad at not being racist… I do that thing where I get people of the same race/gender/height/bodyshape/hair color mixed up with each other.

And then I do that embarrassed white woman thing where I turn bright red, make up excuses, then keep apologizing way after the time that it’s appropriate to be apologizing. I understand that just makes it worse, but I cannot stop!

Most of the people I know are polite about it. Except this one prominent economist who I keep getting mixed up with the same guy, usually late at night the same day of the same conference… he thinks it’s hilarious and now makes a point of asking me who I think he is (I haven’t gotten it right yet, mainly because I know the other guy by name because he works in my field but I’ve actually seen the other guy more often). I deserve that, though I can’t remember his name right now (whereas I can remember the other guy’s name…).

And I could make excuses that I’m pretty bad with whites too (which is true– I mostly identify people by their height and hair color), but it’s far worse with non-whites.  I’m terrible with names.  I’m terrible with faces (but not terrible enough to believe I have that medical thingy where you can’t recognize faces… I do recognize faces of people I know).

And I know it’s not just me.  I know there’s tons of research showing that when we’re tired or have too much cognitive load one of the first things to go is correcting for implicit biases.  But it’s still pretty excrementy of me.

All of this is to say, I wish I were either less implicitly racist or I were always less tired!!!!!

(And yes, I know that some people are going to say that this post is just making things worse because it makes the problem all about me.  You know, like white women do.  [Because nobody ever says that about white men; they always get credit for just trying.]  But at that point I throw up my arms and say, “I think I am going to ignore that and take a nap.”)

Do you think there’s any point …

Occasionally we stumble upon mommy-blogs in which the author is extremely anxious about the cleanliness of her house or her lack of making beautiful baked goods or what she’s doing or not doing with her children or I don’t know, whatever it is that the NYTimes is telling women and mothers to be anxious about.  Sometimes her husband is a lazy asshole and she feels like she can never measure up to his wants and needs while still taking care of the children and house (and sometimes, though not always, her job).  And she’s worried about her (normal-range) weight to boot.

And sometimes I will “poo” in her comments section, questioning why she believes that magazine or blog article she read telling her that her life is worthless if her kitchen floor isn’t sparkly.  (I haven’t seen articles like that, but bloggers claim they exist.  Maybe they have subscriptions to Patriarchy Monthly:  Keeping women down since the beginning of time?)

This little scat packet of mine rarely goes over well.  I’m not the target demo.  The target demo is other women who also feel like their kitchen floor will never be clean enough who are supposed to commiserate.  *shudder.*

And I wonder… is there any point to saying, “Cleanliness is next to cleanser, not next to Godliness” and “Why are you making yourself miserable because you don’t measure up to some artificial standard created by the patriarchy?”  (Because the blogger is always miserable.  And she always blames herself and never the magazines.)  Not usually in those words, but it doesn’t actually matter how gently or politely the words are phrased.  Harsh comments and gentle comments get the same response.

If it weren’t for the patriarchy or those women’s magazines, would they find something else to be miserable about?  Is it really the patriarchy bringing them down, and would understanding it do any good?

Really what I ought to do is to completely leechblock such blogs so I don’t have to read them myself, because they depress me.  Reading about women who are upset when they don’t need to be depresses me.  I don’t like reading about people who stay with lazy husbands they don’t love and don’t communicate with who make them miserable (and say all relationships are like that, anyone who says differently is lying, so why change).  I don’t like reading about people feeling guilty and anxious and worthless because they’re buying the line that the patriarchy is selling them.  I don’t like reading about people being determined to stay miserable and anxious.

And no, I don’t blame these women, but it makes me feel sad and helpless to see the comments agreeing that that’s just the way life is and everybody feels like that and all women are worthless and not measuring up to arbitrary standards that they believe are important that don’t have to be important.  And voices of dissent get attacked– it’s self-policing.  Will it always stay that way?  And is one lone blogging voice saying no, don’t believe it, doing more harm than good?

What’s the point?

In which we pay an estimated tax penalty

So, last year, with DH’s unemployment and our various deductions, we ended up getting $500 back from the government at tax time, even though we hadn’t paid in estimated taxes.  So this year we figured we weren’t required to pay estimated taxes because Turbo Tax said we hadn’t last year.  We were wrong.  Why?

1.  One of my legacy stock funds (American Century Trust from back when my father took care of my investments) decided to sell parts of itself and cause a capital gain of 6K which it then reinvested in itself.  It did this last year but only for 2K and hadn’t done it for the previous 12+ years so I thought last year was an aberration.  I was wrong.  Now I want to sell the entire thing so I don’t get these surprises each year.  (On the plus side, when I investigated last year, this capital gains thing they do lowers the capital gains that will accrue when the stock is actually sold.  Still, unlike my father, I prefer my investments to be simple and predictable.)

2.  I was stupid and made major charitable donations Jan 2015 instead of Dec 2014 because I didn’t understand our state tax situation for next year because … yes I know I have a phd in economics don’t judge me.  (I suspect Brigitte Madrian thinks I’m stupid too.  This is one of my great sorrows in life.)

3.  The stupidest of the stupids… I ridiculously assumed that if we claimed 0 deductions on withholding that the government would take out about the right amount of tax for our income so I wouldn’t have to think about taxes on the wage part, just the non-wage income income.  That is apparently seriously untrue.  Yes I know we are how old and never realized this before… but we never had to stop paying estimated taxes for a year and then start up again (and we had bigger mortgage tax deductions…).  Gov’t withholding  on your wages is not enough once you hit a high enough income.  I don’t know why I assumed it would be… it’s not like they can take out larger percentages of your paycheck as your income goes up.  [Update:  The gov’t DOES take out the appropriate amount of income if you’re single (and work steadily).  And the way it does it is by taking a larger % out of larger paychecks (unlike Social Security which takes out the same % and then just stops when you hit the cap).  The gap between monthly payments as a single vs. as a married is substantial and at my income level seems to be assuming that the spouse is earning less.  Which, in this case, he really isn’t.]

4.  We’ve never actually made more than 150K/year before and hit the tax penalty.  So we thought we only had to pay 100% of last year’s tax, which we were sure we’d do because DH has been employed all year instead of unemployed half the year… turns out we actually needed to pay 110% of last year’s tax.  And somehow we paid something like 108% of last year’s tax, give or take.

Add to that are the things we knew were changing, like less housing interest, and it turns out we both owe the government a pretty hefty 4 figure check and have incurred a penalty of $31.  It’s a good thing we’ve been saving up.

By the time we figured this all out, I was basically like, $31?  Screw it.  (Should we figure out if we can pay estimated taxes for 2014 now to eliminate the penalty?  Whatever.  Screw it.  It’s $31.  Which feels like nothing when you’re already writing a check for over $6K.  Even though it really isn’t nothing, I’d pay $31 not to have to think about taxes anymore this year.)

Apparently if we pay our tax bill early, we can cut the penalty to $21.  At least according to TaxAct.

Now to figure out the estimated taxes for next year… because there’s nothing like following up a huge check with another huge check.  But hey, rich people problems.  If only I didn’t feel so dumb.

November Mortgage Update: And hypotheticals

Last month (October):
Years left: 3
P =$1,042.82, I =$171.58, Escrow =$788.73

This month (November):
Years left: 2.75
P =$1,054.86, I =$159.55, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

Man, it sure is nice to be getting paid again.  Beautiful beautiful paycheck.  Bank account numbers are going up instead of down again.  :)

I won’t find out whether or not I’m getting a half-paid sabbatical next year for several months.  However, I may take the year off unpaid *anyway*.  We have an awfully large savings buffer and DH’s company swears they have enough money to stay in business for the next two years even if they earn no more money during that time (and they’ve got grants out and products being made, so hopefully they’ll get more money).  And DH is one of their valued employees.  And he should be able to find new employment even if he loses his job depending on where we do the sabbatical.

There’s a lot of questions about where to go too, but I’ll defer that for a later post.  All of the places, however, have a higher cost of living than where we are right now (which isn’t difficult!)  Think double the cost of daycare, 1.5 to 2x the cost of housing for something much less nice than our current mortgage (even without the prepayment).

The hypotheticals I want to address right now involve the house.

We currently have 3 cats, one of whom still occasionally pees on a comforter or pile of laundry if we leave it out when she’s out and about.

Our house is also a superficial mess.  Yes, the carpet in the kids’ bathroom is gone and the vertical blinds that were in the worst shape have been replaced, but that’s only the tip of the home-repair ice berg.  The kittens literally shredded the master bathroom when they were still kittens.  It will need to have the wallpaper completely removed, patching done, and paint.  The entire house needs to be painted– it’s grungy and chipping in places and occasionally sports two year old art.  There’s a sizable black ink stain in the carpet in DC1’s room that won’t go away with steam cleaning (it, in fact, just gets bigger every time we try).  The deck needs painting.  The screens need to be replaced or patched.  The guest toilet is getting rusty.  And on and on and on.

We are not allowed to rent to students by HOA rules.  (Though we’re fairly sure there’s a group of students living down the street from us, but the HOA board is currently weak.  When strong it has brought lawsuits to such houses and won against them.)

Our house, in theory, if it were in good shape, would rent unfurnished for $2000/mo.  Though one year rentals may drop as low as say, $1600/mo.  (Note, our required mortgage is $2003/mo, though as you can see the escrow and interest are under $1000/mo.)  Storage for our furniture would cost something like $300-500/mo, give or take.

In bad shape, any house in town will rent for $1200/mo, possibly even $1500/mo.  Our house would be a bargain at that price, even with stained carpet.  Though we’d still have to repaint, I think.

We’re not sure if anyplace we go will allow 3 cats.  Two, yes.  We might be able to leave one of the cats at a relative’s place for the year (though the two black kittens are very attached to each other, and we’d be breaking that attachment– it is unlikely that a relative would take the incontinent kitten).

Our utilities range from $50/mo to $800/mo depending on time of year.  Lawn mowing costs $35/mo, plus weeding $50/mo, but only during the growing season.  Our lawn has to meet a certain standard or we get nasty letters from the HOA  threatening to take our house.

Obviously we’ll stop mortgage pre-payment for next year if I go on leave.

So our choices:

1.  Fix everything up, try to get market rate for the house.

2.  Fix some stuff up (painting, but patch instead of replace screens, put a rug over the ink spot etc.), put the house on the market for cheap.  Potentially offer a discount for renting it furnished rather than unfurnished.

3.  Hire someone to house sit.  Here we could either ask that they pay utilities and take care of the lawn or we could pay utilities and pay them to take care of the house and the two kittens.  If we pay them, then we could get the house fixed up while we’re gone rather than this year when we’re both living here and busy.  With infinite money we could even have the kitchen redone (except we don’t have infinite money).

So I don’t know.  We have quite a bit of extra money in savings right now earmarked for home improvement (we’ve only spent ~$3K so far), though some of that may end up going for rent next year depending on what we end up doing.  If we had a lot more money we’d pick option #3 no contest.  But while we could afford that option (without the kitchen remodel), it would potentially drain our non-retirement/non-529 savings (when combined with our living expenses for next year).  

What are your thoughts on the options?  What should we be considering to make the decision?

Ask the grumpies: Obligation to house a sibling?

Kellen asks:

Let’s say I have a sibling, older than me, who has received enough bail outs from our parents that they don’t want to bail this sibling out anymore. That is–they want to help, but they feel like it’s enabling said sibling to continue not standing on their own two feet.

Now, sibling just moved to a small town very far away because sibling’s partner moved there for work. Sibling has no job, no money, and maxed out credit card. Sibling would need financial help to even pay for the gas and probable car repairs needed to drive across the country to move close to the family. One suggestion from parents is that sibling must stay in the small, far away town, find a job, even if it’s bagging groceries, and save enough to pay sibling’s own way.

Now, here I am, in a very good spot in life, just made it to saving 50% of my income this month. I don’t know if it’s good for sibling to stay in this small town with no money, and learn to hold down a job, or if, as family, there’s some obligation to help sibling get to where I am and stay in my (sort of) spare room (which is really our office/living room space) while sibling finds a job around here (in the big city).

Also, sibling has a degree as an elementary school educator + a masters degree in something like team-building activities (?), but has been trying to work as a general contractor. So sibling is not completely without qualifications, but kind-of without qualifications to do the kind of work sibling likes (working outdoors, doing labor). Also, I only know people who work in offices, which sibling has 0 experience with, so I can’t really help sibling find a job.

So, this is the kind of question that if the grumpies could answer it, they’d be able to sell the answer and make millions and millions of dollars, maybe billions once you add in speaking tours and private consulting with very rich people.

In terms of whether or not you have an obligation to invite hir to where you are and stay in your spare room.  The answer there is no.  It sounds like your sibling has worn out your parents and they may be right that ze needs to figure things out before someone else comes to the rescue.  And it sounds like sibling probably isn’t in a situation where your help would actually be help rather than enabling.  Sibling is an adult.  There aren’t children involved.  Your parents have tried to help and have decided that that kind of help isn’t helpful.  What you can offer may not be helpful either.  Your parents may be right that sibling has to hit bottom and build hir way up before ze can actually make use of any help you could give.  They may be wrong, but it’s not like their decision has to be a permanent one.  Time will provide more information.

We can also tell you from personal experience that it is seriously irritating to house a user.  Housing someone like #2 when she needs it is great!  She’s thankful and does chores both asked (without complaint) and unasked and is basically a pleasant person to be around, and she gets stuff done that she came to do and so on.  Housing someone who is used to being bailed out gets seriously annoying when he doesn’t hold up his end of what he’s supposed to be doing, complains that you don’t keep the a/c low enough (and that he’s the one who has to move his car morning and evening to comply with the HOA) even though he’s not paying rent, assumes he’s staying longer than you thought you had agreed (say, until the out-of-state house sells), and wastes all his money on things like fast food.  And you get to hear how his wife won’t move to town and get a job because then she’d lose free babysitting from her mom that you suspect the mom didn’t exactly agree to.  It is super stressful.  *koff*

You do probably have a familial obligation to keep your ears open and keep in contact with your parents to make sure that someone is keeping a long-distance eye on said sibling.  But you do not have an obligation to invite hir to live with you.  And if said sibling seems to have turned things around a bit and seems to be on a path where it’s clear that you can help in some way that doesn’t have the potential to majorly blow up, then it would be nice of you to help.  And if said sibling hits a true rock bottom, it would be nice of you to help your parents pay for attorney’s costs or counseling costs or for you to help said sibling get into whatever (government or nonprofit) programs or systems that might help.

So we can’t tell you what to do, but we can give you permission not to invite your sibling to stay with you when your parents have given many second and third and fourth chances that seem to have hurt rather than helped.

What say you, grumpy nation?  Got any better advice?

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.


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?


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