Can toilet paper spark joy?

Pretty much everyone has heard of the Konmari book about minimalism and cleaning and only keeping things that “spark joy.”

Detractors often say that some utilitarian things are just not going to ever spark joy.  Now, we believe in small well-made tools to the extent that we’ve recommended people give tweezers and pencil sharpeners for Christmas.  These little luxuries really do spark joy for me whenever I have to sharpen a pencil or tweeze an errant hair or open a jar or what have you.

What, of course, makes them spark joy, is the memories of using pencil sharpeners that don’t sharpen right, or tweezers that take a lot of effort.  Or jar openers that take too much hand strength.  And on and on and on.

Often people will say, “Toilet paper will never spark joy.”  And I submit that those people did not grow up with crappy toilet paper.  One of my guilty pleasures in life is buying really nice quality toilet paper.  Toilet paper that doesn’t melt upon contact with water.  That doesn’t scratch.  That doesn’t take handfuls and handfuls per use.  (It’s a guilty pleasure because I know it’s not the best choice for the environment, but I buy it still!)

So… how to make sure even your mundane objects spark joy?

  1. Use crappy cheap versions of the object
  2. Find the best version of the object
  3. Use that instead
  4. (dispense with the crappy versions if you’re Konmari-ing)

Joy sparked!

Of course, if you haven’t suffered, you’ll never know the joy.  I suppose that if you do get rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy then you’ll have a lot of unsharpened pencils until you get a new sharpener, at which point, its eliminated absence will cause new joy to be sparked.  So…

Ah, the cirrrrrcle of hedonic adaptation.

Do mundane objects spark joy for you?  Which ones?

Life with a smartphone

So I’ve had the smart phone for a little over two months at this point.   Has it changed my life for the better?  Um, yes.  Has it taken over my life?  Well, not yet, but it probably will eventually.

Our first two bills have been less than our dumbphone sprint bills.  The most recent was just under $50.

I still need to get google maps because the map program that came pre-installed both sucks and doesn’t seem to work on my phone.  DH has googlemaps on his and it’s a dream.  Maybe I should do that now.  I always think of it when I’m lost in a city and am having to use the cell for data (which is why our bill was higher this past month), which is not a good time to download it.

I’m *mostly* good about just using the wireless for data stuff, though when I’m traveling I’m not as good, and worse than that I have forgotten to turn the cell data off twice so it eats money in the background.

It is wonderful having yelp on hand, even if I don’t like the smartphone yelp app.  It’s still more wonderful than nothing.  (We knew this was going to happen– so many times I had wanted yelp when out and about and did not have it!)

I’ve used it to take a few pictures.  I now understand why my students are always using theirs to take pictures of the board or their homework or whatever.  Sometimes it is easier to just take a picture than to try to explain something.  My sister sent me a bunch of pictures she took with the kids, which was pretty awesome.

One thing I didn’t anticipate– I LOVE facetime.  I had always thought of video chat like Skype… which is just not fun to use.  Facetime is so much better.  So clean and fast, even when we’re both using wireless.  It’s like DH is in the room with me except I can’t touch him (which sucks).  And we’ve been using it for family rather than for work stuff– I still prefer just the phone for work stuff.  I don’t like having to worry about how I look or moderating my facial expressions and so on if I don’t have to (wearing pants is a big part of this).  The kids love facetiming with my sister and with DH or me when one of us is traveling for work.  And it’s so much easier to understand what they’re saying than when they’re using the phone as a phone.

DH has used his for a lot more stuff.  I’m trying to keep it slow because I easily get addicted to things.  But I do see there’s a lot of potential for life improvements.  (DH has also started using Uber for the airport, which my bleeding socialist heart isn’t crazy about, at least until Uber has more safety/worker regulations attached to it, but I do also really appreciate not having to get the kids bundled into the car late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.)

Google hangout is also pretty awesome since that’s how I keep contact with my RAs while I’m out of state.  Now I don’t have to be chained to the computer if they have a question.  (Also:  when chatting with DH, I only need to make 3 clicks to say “I love you”– it just knows!)

I do think, though, that I’m getting a bit more ADHD about checking the internet now that I have the phone and *can* check it.  Like Scalzi, I’ve been feeling pretty distracted recently and wonder if I should, like him, make some sort of productivity goal before I’m allowed to check the internet.  I don’t know.

One nice thing about paradise is that our internet cable company has this deal that if you use their internet, then when you’re out and about you can steal other people’s internet if they have the same company.  It doesn’t work when a lot of people are trying to steal the same internet, but it has been really nice when we’re out and about when there aren’t too many other people around, especially in residential neighborhoods.  When we get back home, we’re no longer going to have that option so either we’ll stop using the phones so much when we’re away from home (which might be good for say, conversation etc.) or we’ll have higher Ting bills from data usage (and me then forgetting to turn off cell).

So, do I recommend it*?  Well, if you can afford the hardware, having a smart phone is pretty awesome.  Given the hardware purchase, our break even point is a long time from now.  I do kind of wish we’d bought one earlier, but sunk cost, yo.  Ting is working out pretty well for us (though it does not process the friends discount unless you badger them about it, which I find to be kind of obnoxious).  I’m not sure it will work as well when we don’t have as much access to free wireless when we’re out.

Do you have any technological improvements you’ve been enjoying?  How has owning a smart phone changed your life, if at all?  Is there anyone left without a smart phone?

*not that anybody in the world is still sans smartphone (other than #2).

Ask the grumpies: Questions about living in paradise

Mid A asks:

[W]ould [you] want to live in paradise permanently, now that you have experienced it as a family? What income would you ideally generate to live a comfortable life (fancy cheese, travel to relatives, satisficing for keyboards, etc.)? Is the school environment more competitive and if so, what is your take on it?

Would we want to live here permanently?  Well… if I could move my job here, sure.  But I can’t.  Or if we were idle rich and not Mr. Money Moustache definitions of rich– like actually rich and could afford to buy a reasonably nice (for paradise) house someplace reasonably nice with cash and pay taxes and so on.  We knew we liked it here before living here as a family, though there are other paradises that we like more for some things and less for others.  So, given that I can’t move my entire department here, we’re going to stay in our small town.  If DH loses his telecommuting job, we will reconsider.  But up until that point, we’re staying put.  I honestly don’t know what I would do out here.  There are some SLACs, but they’re small, so there’s no guarantee they’d even have openings in my field.  Prestigious schools might have soft money openings.  Non-prestigious schools sound like high teaching loads and low salaries.  There’s not a ton of government or industry in my field of interest around here.  So who knows.

5 years ago when rents weren’t so high (3k/mo instead of 5k/mo — we’re currently paying 4k/mo because we got a deal on this place), I sat down and made that calculation including the increased tax burden and came up with 120k/year as a renter. That includes high quality full-time daycare for one kid for a year but only one car. And it is possible to get deals on housing if you keep your eye out for lazy landlords, so there are still places if you move quickly and are attractive to lazy landlords where you can get even 2K/mo for a 1200 sq ft 2-bedroom, but you have to be fast and seem like you’re going to stay for a long time.  We also have friends who bought at a good point and are paying less than 3K/mo on their mortgage.  In addition to rent increases, inflation has also happened since then.  So the answer would be something more than 120K/year if we’re renting and aren’t going to make a whole lot of sacrifices.  I don’t know what the answer would be exactly, though I will probably do that calculation at some point after we’re done, maybe without dealing with the additional tax burden though because that’s a pain to figure out if you don’t have to.

The school environment we’re in isn’t very competitive.  However, there are a lot of communities around here that have different levels of competition and different types of competition.  We were limited in where we ended up by DC1 wanting to stay grade-skipped (which knocked out one reputationally very competitive district and several not at all competitive districts), our inability to afford an extremely expensive place, and most landlords at the top of our price range not wanting us as tenants (cats, kids, the one year thing).  On top of that, within our district, many of the competitive parents send their kids to a lottery school that you can only get into by lotterying in the spring before kindergarten.  So my answer to that:  if you’re worried about too much competition, there’s a lot of heterogeneity across districts and within districts.  The same is true of preschools.  Here and in other paradises.  (And if you *want* the competition you may have difficulty being allowed to compete since the most competitive places tend to require waitlists or lotteries.)

Have any of you done the “What income would I need to live comfortably in paradise” calculation (for your paradise)?  Are you living in your paradise, why or why not? 

Solving problems structurally: For scatterbrained people with no willpower

I have no willpower, and this lack of willpower just gets worse when I’m sleep deprived or hungry.  (Don’t tell my mom, but the only reason I didn’t get pregnant in high school is because DH was seriously responsible.)

I am naturally disorganized (with the exception of being vaguely OCD about alphabetizing spices and bookshelves). If I were living alone, my stuff would be organized by having the newest stuff on top and the oldest stuff in the layer closest to the carpet.

My ability to remember all the things I need to do or need to carry or need to have is pretty weak.  I have failed to bring my laptop cable to work two days in a row at this point and am out of battery juice tomorrow unless I go over and put that cord in my bag right now.  Despite my best efforts, I still occasionally have to buy lunch because I left my made lunch on the counter.

I am, however, pretty good at putting together a system of kludges that allows me to function and even succeed– aligning my current actions with my long-term goals.  Reading the Willpower book I was astonished with how much of, “I do that” I actually do.  If there’s a tip or trick for not allowing myself to descend into my basest wants (which are many), I use it.

It’s pointless and way too much effort trying to fix myself.  However, I can change circumstances so that I can still get ahead.  I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well over the past few decades and I’m pretty good at figuring out what makes me tick.

In college, I was forever losing my keys.  So… each time I got a new keychain or key, I would just add it to the one I carried around with me.  Eventually it got so massive that it has become very difficult for me to lose.  People often make fun of me for it, and they often question whether or not I’m hurting the ignition on my car, but the massive structure is easy to find and it’s noticeable when I don’t have it.  Additionally, when I get home, I try to put it in the same place next to the door.  This doesn’t always work, but I’d say a majority of the time it’s there in the morning.

I keep clutter down by not buying things in the first place and by putting unwanted gifts in the gift/donate closet right away.

I am very bad about forgetting things.  My world is full of lists and lists of lists.  I carry a day planner and enter things in as soon as I get them and check the planner every morning.

I have habits and rituals.  Back in college I had a boyfriend who would always say, “wallet watch glasses keys” before he left the room and it often goes through my head as well, though I keep my glasses in the car and never take them out so that I always have them for driving.  Similarly, after opening Stata, I always change the directory, set more off, and OPEN A LOG FILE.  Because the log file will rescue me from many of my other bad Stata habits and mistakes.

Mistakes aren’t limited to coding– part of the reason we have such a big slush fund is to make it so mistakes aren’t so painful.  Last weekend, for example, we got a parking ticket because we were 10 min late getting back to our car.  For want of 50 cents, we owe $43.  But that’s an annoyance more than a catastrophe (and DH has said he’ll pay it out of his allowance since he feels responsible and doesn’t want me to feel bad about it– that’s what the allowance is for, he says).

Mental accounts also help with money concerns.  Retirement savings come straight off the top so I don’t even see that money so it can’t make me feel rich.  I reconcile the checkbook as soon as I get a bill even if I delay the actual payment.  That emergency/slush fund stays in savings and checking is what is supposed to take care of regular expenses.  (And when either the checking or emergency fund number gets too low, it is time to cut back.)

I also have a huge problem with willpower.  That means I do not buy things I shouldn’t eat, unless it’s something I can totally resist (like licorice– yuck).  I have not played video games since my first year of graduate school because once I start I can’t stop.  So I don’t start.  Cold turkey.  A hard line in the sand.

I could try to make myself remember things better.  I could work on myself to try to give myself stronger ability to resist temptation when it comes calling.  Yes, it would be great if I were calmer, more productive, had a better memory.  But, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Do you have problems with willpower?  How do you solve problems structurally?  Have you been successful at changing your base self, and if so, how?

What would you do if retired?

Back in May, Leigh talked about how when interviewing for her current job they asked her what she would do if she were retired.  She mentioned she’d considered graduate school, and they were all, you can do that now (if you take this job)!

That got us thinking about the general question– what would we do if retired?

#1:  We have enough money saved right now that we could retire to my DH’s home town if we really wanted to.  We’d rather work.  The answer is always different depending on how much money we have in these retirement scenarios.  At one amount we could retire to paradise permanently and enjoy events and hobbies and library books and so on– enough to keep us entertained.  At another amount it would be irresponsible not to be philanthropists and to use that money to make the world a better place.

When #2 was between jobs she loved it.  I have plenty of hobbies including riding horses, reading, napping, and fostering orphaned kittens.  I have friends to see and cool places to go.  I could do some traveling.  My partner was working (and supporting my lifestyle) so there was a limit to what we could do together.  I will probably never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, so I’d be happy to do that for a long, long time…. being temporarily retired is awesome!

Though making money is awesome too.

Taking someone else’s goal

There are a lot of fads in the internet community.  For goal-oriented people, there are a lot of goals out there that people can latch on to.

Things like marathon training, whole30 (#2 doesn’t even know what that is.  No no, don’t tell me.*), early retirement, minimalism, and on and on and on.

Sometimes taking one of these outside goals leads to self-improvement and happy changes.  Often they seem to lead to unhappiness for those attempting things or guilt from those who don’t attempt them but are still part of the relevant communities.

Why do you think these things gain so much traction?

Is it because they’re great ideas and we just never thought about them before?  Is it because of peer pressure– everyone else is doing it?  Are we trying to fill up some void in our life?  Is it something about how human beings are social and like to follow Bellwethers?  A hope for quick cash from blog revenue?  (paypal to grumpyrumblings at gmail, in case you were wondering, though we are now BOTH gainfully employed and do not need it as much as your favorite charity does)

 

*too late–it’s kind of like a Paleo diet that you do for 30 days.  People who do it also tend to use the word “cleanse” a lot.**

**can you tell by the dated fads listed that this was another post pulled out of ancient drafts?  I think this one was from when minimalism was going through the PF community, not its most recent iteration through lifestyle blogs.***

***had to add this footnote because Whole30 is starting to make its way through the public finance internets!  They use words like “healing”.  Everything old is new again… with a different internet community.

 

 

amazon prime = I buy more stuff (from amazon at least)

Huh, Amazon is having a big “prime” day on the 15th.  We didn’t know that when we first queued up this post.  Go us?

#1 had resisted getting Prime for a long time.  Not because of the annual cost of the thing (we spend more than that on Netflix each year), but because of the behavioral changes I worried might come with it.  It’s not so bad to wait for products– waiting encourages introspection and makes it easier to put something on the wishlist since getting it in 7-10 days isn’t so much different than getting it at the next holiday (or failing that, getting it at Target on the weekend).  Once it’s on the wishlist it either displaces a potentially unwanted present, or it might no longer be needed.

Without Amazon Prime I would also batch up orders to make sure I could get to $35 before purchasing to get free shipping.  Though sometimes if I needed something, I would either have to pay shipping or find something I didn’t need right away to add to the list (but, of course, there’s always the wish-list for those items).

But then I needed Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer because DH had taken the ipad and its children’s games with him.  We do have Netflix, but at the time it mainly only had PBS Kids stuff (now it’s got a lot more variety, like My Little Pony, which I swear is the best show on kids’ TV these days, except maybe Doc McStuffins).  Also DC1 wanted to read more Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja and that’s on the list of things that can be read free (one book a month) for Amazon Prime members.  So we did their free monthly trial.

Like many technology things, Amazon Prime is one of those things that you don’t need until you have it and once you’ve had it it seems essential.  Yes, it has increased our amazon spending– if we need something soonish, we really do just go on amazon and order it.   This is especially useful for when we get a flyer from school at the beginning of the week saying we need something by Friday.  However, it has also, I think, cut down on our Target and Home Depot purchases.  So I’m not sure what the overall net effect is on spending and stuff-acquisition.  The number of amazon boxes randomly showing up at the house seems to have slowed in the months since we first got it, though I’m not sure how much of that is due to the Prime effect slowing down and how much is due to, you know, getting ready to move.

Should you get Prime?  Probably not, unless you care more about convenience than spending and stuff acquisition, which you may.  Or really want Nickelodeon kids’ television.  Once you have it, you may find it hard to ever give up, even after the free month is over.

#2

The shelter put the foster kittens on a kind of kibble that I can’t find in my local stores, so I ordered it from Prime rather than driving around to any more stores.  Also the special kitten-safe litter, just because that’s heavy and awkward to carry home from the store 2 blocks away with the other groceries.

Privilege, I haz it.  And it’s super-great!

I shop through smile.amazon.com, which is the exact same as amazon (same interface, account info and preferences) except it also donates to a charity you choose.  Not a lot (a Google search suggests .5% or $5 for every $1000 you spend), but more than 0.  Partner and I don’t factor this in to our yearly charitable donations.

This post is not a plug, we don’t get paid for this post (though we do get paid a bit if you buy any stuff through affiliate links).  We’re just spitballin’ about the conveniences of our lives.

We know very well that Amazon can treat people badly.  We are not unconflicted about this.  But the convenience is just too much.

Do you use Amazon Prime?  Why or why not? If you do, have you noticed it affecting your spending habits at all?

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