Life Lately: What’s Working (And What’s Not)

When I read Katie’s post earlier this week, I had to wonder if she has been brushing up on her mind-reading skills. She wrote about what systems were working well as part of her fall routine and her post came on a day I was drafting my own thoughts on the same topic!

I spend a lot of time tweaking things that aren’t working well in my routine but don’t always take time to appreciate what is working. The next step, of course, is to find ways to promote the continuation of these positive behaviours and routines!

Without further ado…

things that are currently working well

  • Bedtime. This has been so much better in September. I would say at least 5 nights a week I have been in bed – lights out! – by 10:30 pm. I still regularly feel tired, but at least I know I’m getting to bed at a reasonable time and suspect much of my exhaustion is just carryover from our busy summer when my sleep hygiene was horrific!
  • Reading less. While it’s very normal for me to slow down book consumption over the summer, I was feeling guilty about how I haven’t transitioned back into a reading routine (either solo or with the kids) now that we’re settled into the back-to-school season. But then I thought: what I’m doing is actually working for me. In between a sharp uptick in the extracurriculars the kids are involved in, work and home responsibilities, my focus on getting outside and exercising every day, time spent writing here, etcetera, etcetera…there hasn’t been a lot of excess time to read. And that’s okay! Although I enjoy reading, I don’t want it to become a tedious “to-do” I have to check off. I’m reading solo 3-4 nights a week for 30 minutes, and probably spend about 2 hours over the course of the week reading to the kids which feels like a good balance for our current stage of life.
  • Scheduling work e-mails to send in the morning. I know this “hack” is old but it is the first time I’ve used this option consistently. Even though I work from home and my hours are flexible, it can feel like I should fit every task into the confines of a normal 9-5 working schedule. This doesn’t actually happen, though, nor is it the most efficient way for me to complete work tasks. I typically receive an influx of e-mails between 5-7 pm. So, a few times a week, I’ve been doing an evening “shift.” I set all the e-mails I draft to send the next morning at 8 am (or, if I’m doing it over the weekend, 8 am on the next weekday). I’m able to put in a bit less working time each week while feeling more efficient/effective in my role. I’ve been doing evening work for years, but always sent emails immediately, which meant in the morning I’d have an inbox full of responses. This new layer of automation is definitely working well.
  • Middle school independence. I’m only a bystander to her experience, but I am so, so happy with how excited Abby has been about the new opportunities of middle school. On Sunday, after helping with preschool-age kids during the first church service along with a whole gaggle of other middle-schoolers and then attending her own middle-school group (all independent from her brother and parents!), she was positively glowing when she said: “Mom, I love youth group soooo much.” Her enthusiasm is wonderful to see. Drama camp, choir, school soccer, various groups and clubs – this weekend even involves an overnight camp retreat! It’s an exciting time in the Frost household.
That sandwich came out of the freezer seconds before I snapped this photo!
  • Freezing sandwiches. Yes, you read that right. Freezing sandwiches. This is a trick my sister taught me when we visited South Carolina. She has a big family and a VERY hectic schedule. One of her time-saving hacks is making up a batch of sandwiches and freezing them. I was skeptical at first, but it works like a charm. It takes about the same amount of time to make 12 ham and cheese sandwiches as it does 2. We’ve mass-produced (and frozen) ham + cheese, butter + jam, and egg + bacon. I just pull two sandwiches out the night before and put them into their lunchbox frozen. I might add something like mustard, mayo or lettuce/spinach to the sandwich at this point, but there are no crumbs to deal with and no cheese to slice. We do still prep fruit/veggies the day before, but not having to make a fresh sandwich has been a game-changer.
  • My Sprouted planner. I have been LOVING my Sprouted planner recently. To be fair, I’ve loved it all year (*not paid or perked!*), but I feel like I’ve made it work extra hard in September and it has been invaluable for keeping me on task. I’ve come up with some new tracking systems and have settled into a daily routine of maximizing the heavy lifting my planner can do.
  • Limiting coffee. A few years ago I had a Meridian Stress Assessment done and was told to eliminate coffee from my diet. For months I avoided coffee completely (tea and other caffeinated beverages were fine). I do not find coffee gives me a jolt of energy, so consuming it was all about taste and the pleasant relaxation of sipping a hot beverage. If I drink it consistently, though, it really upsets my stomach. Demerit alert: I had been back to drinking way too much coffee. Lately, I’ve been allowing myself one cup a week – and my stomach is so much happier.
  • Intuitive eating/no scale. For months now I have just been…eating food. Nothing has been off-limits. I eat when I’m hungry. Sometimes I eat emotionally. Sometimes I skip a meal when I’m not hungry at a prescribed time. Sometimes I have a late-night snack. Sometimes I eat carrot sticks, sometimes I eat a chocolate. After two decades of either dieting and/or eliminating foods to try to get to the bottom of health issues, this is a very, very big change. I also used to track my weight each day and haven’t touched a scale in months. My clothes might be fitting a tad snugger but such is life. I’m active and healthy and it’s (mostly – see below) working well to spend less time dithering over food.
A Sunday afternoon family walk post-hurricane. We were so relieved (and surprised) that our favourite woods path emerged completely unscathed.
  • Daily walks. These continue to be a great tool for my mental and physical wellbeing. Do 12 minutes outside each day solve all my problems? Nope. But it has felt comforting to have a daily ritual in place that I know is so good for me. Occasionally it does feel like a burden, but the majority of the time I recognize and celebrate the fact that it is such a blessing to have a body that is strong and capable of walking; that it is such a blessing to have clear air and safe streets where I can walk; that it is such a blessing to have the flexibility to make this activity happen daily.

A few things not working so well

I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few things that are NOT going well…

  • Phone use. I’m back to spending too much time on my phone. On Tuesday I picked up my phone 125 times – 125 times?! – and responded to 91 notifications. Allow me to throw out a few flimsy excuses. Excuse #1: this fall has had a lot of logistics to juggle. This means plenty of texting to coordinate rides and schedules. Excuse #2: I have two e-mail accounts at work that require 2-step authentication for sign-in, which means I have to access my phone regularly (every time I switch between accounts which could be a dozen times a day) for the Authenticator app. Once I pick it up to confirm sign-in, I have a bad tendency of checking texts or the latest news headlines. These excuses are legitimate but, if I’m being honest, most of my pickups are superfluous and it’s starting to make me feel icky and restless. I think I might go back to tracking my time + pickups each day? It is frustrating to be back in this place after doing so well with reducing phone use in the spring. What’s that Japanese proverb? Fall seven, rise eight. I guess it’s time to get up again..,and put down the phone!
  • Fruit and veggie consumption/menu planning. While I’ve worked really hard to retrain my brain to think about food less critically and to eat more intuitively, I definitely feel like I’m in a cooking rut. We’re eating fine. I’ve made several soups. We consume fruits and vegetables every day, but I don’t feel like there is any rhythm to food prep these days and I’m definitely often throwing something together out of convenience. For years I had a very concrete structure for what I always had available (e.g. homemade salad dressing and fixings for salads) and I’m just not energetic or organized on the kitchen front right now and I’m not sure how to jumpstart my enthusiasm. While I want to eat intuitively, I also want to make it easy to make choices that will fuel my body to perform well…and that takes a bit more mental bandwidth than I’ve been allocating to the task lately.

Your turn. Any current routine that is working particularly well for you (or not) as we transition into fall?

Header photo by Tetiana Padurets on Unsplash

A Cleaning Hack: Move the Rags

It’s Labour Day! Is anyone else feeling positively giddy this morning? Just me? The holiday feels especially momentous this year as the kids go back to school tomorrow. I repeat: tomorrow. This summer has been jammed full of adventure and work and company, but we’re all ready to ease back into a more settled routine.

In the meantime, a revelation from my end.

Last year I blogged about how I Moved My Deodorant…And It Kinda (Slightly) Changed My World. In similar fashion, last week I was on a cleaning blitz of both upstairs bathrooms when I started thinking about the benefits of resetting a room at the end of each day. I do this relatively frequently in the main bathroom – this is where we all shower and the kids brush their teeth. But I’m more likely to wait for a weekly deep-clean to touch our en suite. So if I see some toothpaste residue on the counter it will annoy me, but I’m likely to leave it until my weekly cleaning regime rolls around – even though it would only take seconds to handle the problem.

After five years of this behaviour, I stopped to ask myself Why? Why leave toothpaste spackle on the counter when it annoys me? (To be fair, since the kids don’t use our bathroom it stays dramatically cleaner than the main bathroom).

The answer? I store all my cleaning rags in the linen closet of the main bathroom. The ensuite contains its own little cache of cleaning supplies, but no rags.

Hopefully you can sense from the title of this post where this thought process led. Yup, I put a handful of cleaning rags under the sink in our en suite and now I can easily do a 30-second reset of counters and mirrors every day or two. No extra thinking – or trip to the linen closet – required.

A little change but, as is often the case, it feels disproportionately impactful.

Happy Labour Day! Now it’s your turn – has anyone implemented a little “hack” lately that has felt momentous in how it streamlines your routine or boosts your happiness?

Header photo by Brian Patrick Tagalog on Unsplash

I Own A Lot of Scissors

About a month ago a friend sent the following text:

Somehow my scissor collection became a topic of conversation at our book club. It seemed shocking to those closest to me that I would own a lot of any item. I do love to declutter, but believe there are certain items that should appear in virtually every room of a house (namely: scissors, pens, scratch paper, and tape).

And so, as proof to my surprised friends that I have long been a fan of multiples, I’m reposting something I wrote back in June 2021.

I don’t particularly enjoy spending money and deliberate over decisions ad nauseam in an attempt to maximize my returns. I’m also a big fan of de-cluttering and have realized the easiest way to maintain a clean-ish house is to have less stuff.

But sometimes, it helps to buy more. Specifically multiples. For example, I keep:

  • a toothbrush in both an upstairs and downstairs bathroom.
  • a set of scissors, a roll of tape, and several pens in (almost) every room. I think it is nearly impossible to have too many sets of scissors in a home.
  • a bag of swimming towels, a change of clothes, and extra sunscreen in the trunk of our car.

I sleep better with white noise and have a device that provides some form of white noise in every bedroom of the house (and a Google Speaker in our living room if insomnia drives me to the couch).

Other things we typically have set up in our home:

  • multiple charging cables for phones/laptops which we leave in designated locations – permanently.
  • a plunger and toilet brush in every bathroom.
  • an extra snowsuit for kids (I’m never able to dry the gear fast enough between trips outside and there isn’t anything worst than wrestling a child into a cold, wet snowsuit) + about 5 pairs of good winter gloves per child, which still seems to fall woefully short of the mark
  • a tube of lip balm, small pad of paper and a pen inside every purse/tote/bookbag.
  • an extra set of keys for the car, mailbox, and house.
  • a box of Kleenex in every room.

My father uses pharmacy-grade reading glasses and owns multiple sets: one for the table, one by his reading chair, one for the bedside table, and one for his workbench in the garage (unfortunately, he does still constantly seem to be looking for a pair).

I don’t sweat much when I exercise, so tend to re-use most of my gear across multiple workouts (with plenty of time for a load of laundry). But I loathe reusing my sports bra. Since I exercise most days, the math doesn’t work. I sourced half a dozen sports bras from local thrift stores and no longer have to scrounge for one in the bottom of the laundry basket.

Less is more...until it’s not. Sometimes life would be more streamlined with the right items in the right place. This might look big (two cars, instead of one) or small (an extra pair of sneakers that permanently stay by the treadmill).

Your turn. Where could having more of something make life easier or more pleasant?

Header photo by Rayia Soderberg on Unsplash

The Satisfaction of Finding The Right Tool

I’ve talked a few times about how little changes can have a disproportionate impact; relocating our CO detector made play with the kids easier and moving deodorant to a different drawer streamlined my morning routine.

Implementing both of these (tiny, seemingly insignificant) tweaks was also deeply satisfying.

And the other day I realized another common source of satisfaction: identifying the right tool for the job. Or, in this case, the right tote for the toys.

Levi loves action figures. As toys go he has low expectations; some LEGO, some mini-sticks, some IKEA balls, some action figures and he is content.

The action figures are the cream of his toy crop, and he plays with them daily.

(Yes, he “needs” all the ones pictured below and has specific roles for every single character. Regarding all that plastic: two were gifted and the rest – you guessed it – were thrifted. So, eventually, they will return from whence they came.)

For years we stored action figures in an adorable wicker basket we had inherited from dear knows where.

This basket was the worst tool for the job.

It was small. It had very wide weaving, leaving a lot of holes for the hard plastic limbs of action figures to get stuck through in ways that might, perchance, elicit some wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap language (from me – not from Levi, who was quite content to leave said action figures strewn about his room in a festive manner and avoid the pitfalls of said wicker basket).

A few months ago, when a friend asked me to pick up an IKEA TORKIS tote, on a whim I added one to my own cart (without any evaluation – how rebellious).

This tote is $8 of pure genius. It is sturdy, yet flexible. It fits every single action figure easily (so a certain someone has no excuse for not picking up) and it fits neatly under his bedside table (IKEA, $10).

I can’t tell you how often I have walked into his room over the last few months and sighed contentedly to see how easy toy cleanup has become.

Identify the problem – and then get to work identifying the right tool for the job. It might be as simple as an $8 tote.

Your turn. Any satisfying changes lately that have made life easier? Anyone else have experience trying to fit too many toys into a too-small container?

P.S. I mention IKEA numerous times in this post, but this is #NotAnAd. IKEA has no idea who I am…though our house is basically one giant IKEA building project.

Header photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

The Riveting Details of How I Manage Book Quotes

I lie. This isn’t a riveting post at all, but I have had a few questions about how I manage, organize and otherwise handle the material I pull out of books. So I decided to give this topic a separate blog post since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

Over a decade ago I started collecting quotes from books. My system was, admittedly, very haphazard. For the most part I would handwrite these quotes in notebooks. This was not a good system for me. I hated the clutter of having different notebooks and it was hard to categorize and/or locate specific information.

Then, for a few years, I would type up a new Word document for every book I read (from which I took notes). This was also cumbersome.

Eventually, I moved everything over to a single master document and slowly digitized all those handwritten notes. It was a big job (and I actually still have a small binder full of quotes – all relating to parenting – that I want to type up at some point).

Last October, after years of wanting to have something I could hold in my hands, I printed off a small book. Four copies – one for me and a handful of friends. That’s it!

The subtitle is…a bit much, though it’s also true! These quotes and reading in general have had dramatic impacts on how I view the world.

I now have a fresh working document that contains all the quotes I’ve gathered since printing off this first compilation.

what sort of information do you record?

Almost exclusively my quotes come from non-fiction, but I do occasionally write down bits of favourite dialogue (including quotes from children’s picture books because they can be surprisingly insightful).

I give a broad first pass because I know that when it is time to make another “book,” I will edit things ruthlessly.

how do you track what you want to RECORD?

CURRENT | I mostly do this by dog-earing or flagging the sections within the book. When I finish reading, I go back through and see if the quote still strikes a chord. If it does, I type it up.

Of the sections I highlight on my first read-through, I’d estimate I keep about 90% of them when I go back through to type up my notes. (Sometimes quotes that seemed deeply insightful on the first reading, were actually more eloquently summarized later in the book.)

2 YEARS AGO | I used to take pictures of quotes – as I went – with my phone and then I would upload the pictures to my computer and then split screens and type them up. This was cumbersome and it also had the unintended consequence of making me more susceptible to spending time on my phone; when I went to take a picture of a quote…it was easy to get distracted by e-mail or WhatsApp notifications in the process. But I can see this still being a great system for other readers.

5 YEARS AGO | I would handwrite the quotes as I came across them in the book. This was cumbersome and interfered with the flow of reading.

How do you organize your notes document

For now, I just list the book title and author and then below that any quotes from their book. If I have picked up on a quote they attribute to another person (e.g. a lot of people quote C. S. Lewis in their books), then I make sure to add the actual person being quoted at the end of that direct quote.

My “book” contained the following categories:

  • Words of Wisdom
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Food + Body
  • Marriage + Relationships
  • Motherhood + Parenting
  • Productivity + Time Management
  • Grief + Pain
  • Work + Creativity
  • Home + Minimalism
  • Mental Health
  • Miscellaneous
  • Insights from Literary Characters
  • Poetry

Within those sections, if I had a lot of quotes from a single book, I left the book/author heading.

In this case, I actually combined quotes from two books by Nora McInery (Purmort)

If I end up having only a single quote or two from a book, then I will add in the author’s name at the end of the quote but not include the book information.

I also will sometimes separate quotes from a book into different categories. Say, for example, I read a book about parenting, but there was something insightful about grief; if I didn’t keep many quotes from that particular book, I might have one quote recorded under the “Grief” category, while a handful might stay in “Parenting”.

This might sound unnecessarily…complicated. But, in reality, I’ve spent a lot of time (happily) optimizing my process until I settled on something that works

Your turn. Do you like to keep quotes, phrases, or memorable bits of character dialogue from books you read? If so, how do you record/track these quotes?

Header photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Capsule Wardrobe Volume 2: What’s Hanging in My Closet

I know wearing elaborate, curated outfits can bring real joy to people – and I say go for it. I have friends that like nothing more than to spend hours poring over online shopping sites picking out new clothes. These same friends relish the opportunity to dedicate time – daily! – to make sure their hair, jewelry, and clothing set a specific tone for the day.

This isn’t me.

I appreciate clothing (for both function and basic aesthetic) but it isn’t a focal point. It is very common for me to put on the exact same leggings and shirt (different earrings, though) several days in a row. And I am very content to do so! It cuts down on laundry (I wash my clothes when they’re dirty, promise) and really limits my decision-making. I suspect this would make many people shudder, but it works for me!

Another note – it is perfectly acceptable in my working environment to show up in jeans and a sweater (most of the time I’m working remotely anyway). I realize that work clothes are a major component of many wardrobes but they don’t factor into mine.

Now let’s discuss clothes.

For a clothing item to stay in my closet:

1. It has to fit

For too many years I’ve held on to aspirational clothes. You know what I’m talking about. The dress that will “fit perfectly” when I lose 10 pounds or the pants that will look “just right” when I grow 3 more inches (spoiler alert: I’m not going to get any taller and this problem calls for a seamstress, not more lima beans. Now I either get my pants hemmed immediately or pass them on)!

2. I have to feel contented wearing the clothing

Not every item in my closet sparks joy. I appreciate what Marie Kondo tries to do with her technique, but I definitely have clothes that remain for utilitarian purposes only. That said, I have decided life is too short to wear clothes I hate. It’s shocking it has taken me the better part of three decades (the length of time I’ve had full say over my clothing choices) to come to this conclusion. Anything other than mid/high-rise jeans is a firm no. Anything that requires a camisole will not get near my closet; I no longer own a single camisole (cue gasp) and hate layering (cue bigger gasp).

3. it NEEDS to abide by the 1-in-1-out rule

When something new enters my closet, I almost always let something go (I either hand these items on to friends, consign them, or donate them to thrift stores).

I like to think of my wardrobe as undergoing steady, gradual improvement. You know the stories about people who start with a VW Beetle and trade up until they own a Ferarri. That sort of idea, but with (low-key) clothes and I’m trading up to Banana Republic, not Gucci – though I don’t give two hoots about the branding.

Because I have so few clothes (comparatively to others in my demographic; obviously I have far more clothes than I need), I know exactly what I have, the shape they’re in (e.g. is anything starting to stretch or wear thin), and I can be on the lookout for an “upgrade”.

4. IT HAS TO FIT MY formula

I know I like dark colours. I know I like flowing, thin-knit sweaters.

Since I know what I like, I generally stick within those confines when shopping. (I recently bought a hot pink coat, but can more than handle that pop of colour in my wardrobe because so much of what I own is in my comfort zone.)

Maybe I’ll enter a season of life where we’re living in a warmer climate (right now that sounds…amazing) and I can ditch the sweaters and long pants? Maybe I’ll get to a point in my life where I crave constant colour and bright patterned prints?

But, for now, I’ve identified what works and I stick with that, boring though it may be!

Where I get MY clothes + THRIFTING STRATEGY

My clothes come, almost exclusively, from consignment/thrift stores.

I don’t like shopping, but find thrifting to be low stress at the two SMALL stores I frequent. Most thrift stores are overwhelming, dusty, and cluttered. I have found two local places I love, and that is where I source almost everything in my closet.

Years ago, a friend and I started spending a few hours every week at our favourite thrift store. Our kids were in the same Friday-evening extracurricular and we would carpool and then spend a happy (and hilarious – some of the clothes we’ve seen just boggle the mind) hour or two browsing.

Visiting often is the easiest way to source clothes at thrift stores. I’m now in a rotation of going 6-8 times/year. Because I have a minimal closet, I have a good handle on exactly where there might be any gaps (I wanted a puffer coat, I knew Abby needed a new robe and some fuzzy leggings for under her snowpants). I didn’t go to the store with any of these specific items in mind, but because I have a running list of the things we need, I’m always on the hunt.

Longevity of clothes

I think I’m relatively “easy” on clothes. Lots of the items pictured below I’ve had, and worn consistently, for years. Multiple items are almost 10 years old. If it’s still in my closet it means I haven’t lost interest.

Much like I can eat the same meal over and over, I’m quite content to wear the same neutral pieces regularly.

breaking down my wardrobe

Without further ado, here is my “capsule” wardrobe.

  • This is exactly what I have hanging in my closet. I store my jogging pants (2 pairs), lined splash pants (1 pair), capri running tights (3 pairs), spandex (2 pairs), and pajama bottoms (1 pair) in my dresser.
  • I have about 15 items in a basement closet. This includes summer dresses/skirts, most of my t-shirts (which I don’t need this time of year in Canada), and capri pants. Shorts (3 pairs? I think) and bathing suits (3) are stored in a small tote in my storage room. I like to ONLY have clothing I’m wearing or is seasonally appropriate hanging in my bedroom closet.

PANTS | I have three pairs of jeans; two black, one blue. If I’m not wearing one of these “dressy” pants, I’m in some form of loungewear like joggers. Pants are tough; I have ample hips and a smaller waist and high rise fits are really the only solution for me. Even still, pants are my nemesis. These three are all high-rise and as comfortable as I’ve managed to find.

The grey and blue sweaters are workhorses for me. They are both fitted but not tight and hit at just the right place on my hips. I love the neck detail and the pop of bright orange on the cuff of the blue (Reebok) shirt.

The two turtlenecks I bought on the same day at a thrift store years ago. I still wear them regularly. The material is stretchy in all the right ways. They’re quite long, but because of the fabric I usually just tuck in the front and let the back hang down.

My “dressier” sweaters. Nothing overly exciting, but I like the beige one in particular.

There’s the grey cable-knit sweater.
The blue striped sweater.

I only have two T-shirts in my closet right now because I live in Canada and it is depressingly cold. I have a few “dressy” short-sleeved shirts and then a handful of exercise T-shirts in the guest room closet which will enter circulation as the weather warms up.

I wear both of the sweaters on the right a lot. The one with the button detail is new-to-me from a recent thrift store outing.

I wore this green shirt three days in a row. It’s comfy and…why think more about clothes? If I was going to be out and around people (other than my family who, thankfully, don’t complain) I’d change things up, but since I’m either home or going out covered in about 3,000 layers, that wasn’t relevant. Oh, and hello there, drywall hole. Remember, I don’t do everything!

In the summer I really enjoy wearing dresses because I find them so much more comfortable than pants. But in the winter, the only time I wear skirts or dresses is to church.

The green dress on the far right is likely the clothing item I’ve owned the longest – I’ve been wearing (and loving) this dress for almost a decade now! I wore it for family pictures when Abby was a toddler; I wore it to a preschool party when Levi was 2 weeks old. I wore it to church last Christmas Eve.

The green dress; Abby was about 3 years old and woke up sick in the middle of the night on the day my friend was to take our family pictures. I love the pictures from that day, but wow was I tired.

Skirts – I don’t wear these much in the winter. When I do, I wear a shirt tucked in. Everything is A-line for me because of body-type.

The items below are all placeholders. I don’t use any of them very frequently, but they serve enough of a purpose, I haven’t yet let them go to a new home. The two white sweaters + the robe were passed along by a friend, and the Ground Control To Major Tom t-shirt was a work-specific purchase (new), but all the other items pictured in this post were purchased at thrift stores (not even consignment!) for under $10/item.

And that’s it!

What about you – do you love putting together outfits and appreciate a full closet? Or, do you tend more to a minimalistic approach? (There is no right or wrong answer!)

Header photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

A ‘Not-Quite-A Budget’ Post. Or, How We Track Expenditures

This is either a post you’re going to linger over with a tall cup of hot coffee until it turns cold…or you’re going to fall asleep by the end of the second paragraph, amazed anyone is actually interested in reading this sort of thing.

So, if this isn’t your type of post, no hard feelings.

I’ve had a few questions about how our family keeps track of expenditures and if I recommend a particular accounting software, so I thought I’d tackle the subject today with a big ol’ roundup.

How do you budget?

Technically, I don’t think I’d call what we do budgeting. At this point, we don’t set aside specific amounts for different categories. We do, sometimes, make decisions with a cap in mind (this is a completely hypothetical example, but I could imagine us saying something like: “We’ll only buy a bathroom vanity that is under $350“). For the most part, I think our strategy would be better described as mindful tracking.

And, more generally, we just aim to be as frugal as possible. Boring perhaps, but true. The pandemic has impacted travel and adventuring but we typically aim to spend money on experiences and memories over “stuff”.

do you use accounting software to manage your finances?


Years and years ago I had to use Quickbooks as part of a job; it was fine, but certainly not my idea of fun. (Remember: my idea of fun is reorganizing sock drawers, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an evening spent on Quickbooks wouldn’t strike a similar chord. Alas, it doesn’t.)

Then, about a decade ago, when working in a local business incubator, we were introduced to a free program called Wave which is what we/our accountant still use to manage corporate finances. (Note: there are some paid features that could apply to certain users but, for personal finances, the functionality of the free version should more than suffice and I find it easier to use than Quickbooks.)

Despite being very familiar with Wave, it felt like more detail than I needed for tracking personal finances.

*Note: I know lots of people swear by You Need a Budget (YNAB). I’ve never tried it – and don’t plan to – but it might be something to check out if you’re on the hunt for a budgeting software?

…so what do you do?

Great question, hypothetical reader – I’m so glad you asked.

I use a spreadsheet.

Shortly after month-end, I export all the transactions from our credit cards and chequing account as a .csv file. I then manually copy and paste the different expenditures into the relevant categories in a spreadsheet.

It’s very simple…

There are totals for each category at the bottom. There is a different tab for each month, along with a summary tab that collates data from all the months. This final tab is where I do basic calculations, including monthly averages for each category.

how do you break down “lumped” receipts?

I don’t, sigh. By this, I’m referring to a trip to the grocery store where I might buy croutons AND green onion AND bananas AND Gorilla Glue AND toilet paper (because that is life as an adult.)

There are two categories where this is most applicable: “Groceries” and “Misc”.

For example, I do a lot of shopping at a local pharmacy. They have most kitchen staples, usually at the lowest prices (and they have a fantastic rewards program to boot). So I go there to get butter, frozen fruit, milk, tea, eggs – anything aside from fresh produce, I can likely source from this store. BUT…I also end up buying sunscreen and sanitary/cleaning products and stuffed animals for birthday parties.

I do not separate this out. Ever.

So our spreadsheet definitely an art (albeit messy), not a science. And if we did have specific numeric values associated for a budget within each category, I’d really need to up my game in being more careful with allocation.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU don’t you track?

We don’t track cash. If someone gave me $100 for looking cheerful as I walked down the street (wouldn’t that be nice), it would go straight in my wallet, never to show up in the spreadsheet.

If we bought a pair of used skis off Kijiji (like Craigslist) for $100, that would not show up in the spreadsheet.

Investments also don’t show up on the main pages, either. On that final summary spreadsheet, I have a running tally of what’s in various investment accounts – including retirement savings, the remaining balance on our mortgage, and the college/university savings program for the kids. So while we have a snapshot of this information, it doesn’t factor into the tracked expenditures. So, for example, if we had $200 getting deposited into a savings account each month, this wouldn’t show up in the monthly spreadsheets…but would be accounted for in the overall equity tracking on the final spreadsheet.

what categories do you track?

The screenshot above, from 2022, is slightly different from previous years. I’ve teased out a few new categories (for example, I added in “Gifts” since this was falling under the “Misc” heading which was feeling too broad). And I’m going to add in a Renovation tab as well – the reasoning behind that will be better explained below.

But from 2018-2021 here are the categories we used:

  1. Household – includes: house insurance, mortgage payments, property taxes, renovations, hot water tank/propane tank rental, heating oil, electric/sewer bills. If we buy a plunger or a house plant, it goes here. Mattress, new sheets, lightbulbs, someone to mow the lawn or paint the living room? All under household.
  2. Charitable – includes: any donations that are tax deductible/we have a receipt for (see note on cash above; if I give $5 to someone bagging groceries to fund a band trip, this won’t show up in the spreadsheet).
  3. Auto – includes: fuel, insurance, repairs.
  4. Kids – includes: camp/school fees, kids clothing if it was very specifically just for them (if I spend $50 on second hand clothing but 1/2 of it’s mine, this will go under “Clothes;” if I spend $100 to buy the kids new sneakers for school, this will go under “Kids.” Again – these sheets are an art, not a science and I’m fine with that. Until 2020 we had preschool fees, so there was a big drop in 2020 when COVID + starting primary meant Levi was no longer in preschool. While I’m now hiring a babysitter every week or so, I pay her in cash so…you guessed it…that doesn’t show up in the spreadsheet.
  5. Groceries – includes: food from a grocery store (NO restaurants) + can also include miscellaneous household products that can be purchased at a grocery store (toilet paper, cleaning products will almost all show up here).
  6. Recurring – I’ve changed this for 2022, but it used to include: life insurance, telephone/internet (the latter is now covered by work, so not included in 2020 or 2021) and some monthly household expenses – like our hot-water tank rental (how boring is that? I love my hot showers but somehow I never envisioned adult life to be so practically uninspiring that a monthly line item is renting a hot-water tank) – which I’ve now moved over to “Household”.
  7. Travel – includes: any airfare, meals/entertainment etc. while travelling.
  8. Clothes – includes: clothes. This is a small category for us, and about 90% of all items are sourced second-hand.
  9. Meals/Entertainment – includes: trips to the movies/zoo etc., any restaurant or take-out meal, Spotify/Netflix/Disney+ subscriptions
  10. Health – includes: any medications, chiropractor/massage/dental work. Chances are, though, if I buy something like Advil at the pharmacy along with a grocery order, that will get lumped under “Groceries”.
  11. Misc – includes: gifts, trips to the DollarStore (could be craft supplies, prizes, decorations etc). Orders from online (Amazon, Aliexpress). Sometimes I’ll put a bigger order into the appropriate category (e.g. a pair of shoes off Amazon might go under clothes; hypothetical as I’m quite certain we’ve never ordered a pair of shoes off Amazon!). For 2022 I’ve teased out Gifts and VV (Value Village, one of our favourite places to thrift, but for very miscellaneous things, so I gave it a category of its own).

This is a lot of words. Do you have pictures?

Thank you, once again, hypothetical questioner extraordinaire. I do, in fact, have some pictures.

But first, a huge caveat. These numbers are quite distorted because I really should have had subcategories under the House designation. Things like mortgage payments and renovations (investments) versus utilities and property taxes (sunk costs) should ideally be kept separate. So the house category is a HUGE chunk of the expenditure pie, but this includes a lot of different inputs surrounding homeownership that don’t necessarily all belong together.

Wow. Household was big (55.8%) – this was the year we had to excavate all around the perimeter of our property to improve drainage. Ugh. Yet another very un-fun reality of being an adult. Health was very, very low (0.5%).

Kids would be almost exclusively preschool fees (7.7%); Meals and Entertainment is consistently between (2-3%). Household dropped to 41.3% (no major renovations or repairs in 2019, thank goodness).

It took me a while to sort out the Charitable tab for 2020. Why so high? Then I realized, charitable giving is always related to income, where other expenses aren’t (for example, if we make extra money, we don’t pay more for our telephone bill). So this reflects a bump in income, while expenses stayed the same. “Kids” expenses halved (down to 3.3%) because we only had preschool for a few months and, beyond that, there was NOTHING OUR CHILDREN COULD DO because we had just started living in a pandemic world.

2021 was all about the house and a lot of this was renovations. When we bought out 1970’s house we knew there was work to be done. A rotting exterior structure had to be removed (2021), windows needed to be replaced (2021), we wanted to add insulation since our walls are very thin and it gets very cold in the winter (2021), adding insulation meant we really should re-do the exterior (2021). You get the idea. So it was a very big year for the house. Again, though, it would be helpful if I had broken this down into fixed costs (utilities, home insurance etc.) vs investments (mortgage + renovations).

Common themes?

“Household” represents the majority of our expenditures. This makes sense; paying down our mortgage + a lot of home repairs. From extensive excavating work to fix drainage issues, to replacing windows and doors – there have been major expenses associated with owning a home.

We spend very little on: “Health,” “Meals and Entertainment,” and “Clothes” (for the latter our max spend rate was in 2020 when this was 1.0% of our expenditures for the year; the minimum was 0.6%).

Now that we have no regular childcare, the “Kids” category is also very low. This will likely pick up as both kids will do some sports this summer and, as pandemic restrictions ease, there will be more opportunities for camps and the like.

let’s talk groceries

Yes, please. Let’s talk groceries.

We love to eat. Like really, really love to eat. I’ve written about this before but we tend to eat simple meals. We don’t buy organic but do eat a lot of whole foods…which aren’t cheap. We have found a lot of great ways to save money at the grocery store (shopping sales and reduced produce being the biggest money-savers for us).

But groceries are more variable than expected.

Our monthly cost of groceries only went up by $3 from 2018 to 2019. Then it took a HUGE leap in 2020, going up by $229 extra PER MONTH! I puzzled and puzzled over this (until my puzzler was sore; thanks, Dr. Seuss) and then realized: John stopped traveling! He was away 50% of the time before COVID, and Levi’s preschool also shut down so we were suddenly doing a lot more eating at home. And while we didn’t eat out much before COVID, this completely dried up for months (and that food would have been shunted over to Meals and Entertainment).

This all makes complete sense now, but at first glance I was incredulous! Why the sudden spike? COVID, of course…

Last year, in 2021, we actually spent almost $50 less per month on groceries from 2020. That one I’ve not quite figured out? Maybe we spent less on household miscellany, as I don’t think we’re eating less!?

I am confident, though, that our grocery expenditures will go up significantly as food prices are starting to jump at alarming rates. I rang up a jug of milk last week and actually went back to the fridge compartment to check that the price was correct. It went up by $1.20 IN ONE WEEK. Milk. A subsidized, staple food (that I don’t drink, but my kids sure do)!

And there you have it. An overview of how we/I track expenditures. Nothing too exciting but, as Gretchen Rubin says, you monitor what you measure. And as we want to be wise stewards with our money, it feels prudent to monitor spending habits.

What about you? Do you love budgeting? Do you track things monthly and use software? Anyone else go old-school with Excel spreadsheets?

Header photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

Capsule Wardrobe Volume 1: A Day Is Always Better When It Involves Sparkly Earrings

It’s no secret that I like to keep things as streamlined and minimal as possible. A few weeks ago I showed the sum total of what hangs in my closet and it was…not many items. Several readers asked about my process for eliminating clothes clutter and I thought I’d start with accessories because, quite honestly, I didn’t feel like drafting a post about clothing.

And, more broadly, I think my minimalistic approach to jewelry shares many parallels to how I approach clothing, too.

Growing up the daughter of a Baptist pastor I learned at an early age that the truest of beauty lies within, not without. It was what we believed and how we lived. My mother, for example, has never had her ears pierced, dyed her hair, or worn makeup and seems extremely contented with these decisions. (She does, however, have two enormous closets overflowing with clothes and several large jewelry boxes, which serve as a sort of counterbalance to any perceived asceticism.)

I spend lots of days (okay, most days) with an au natural face and I’ve only dyed my hair a handful of times (all horrible experiences that eventually left me with ombre hair long before ombre hair was an acceptable and sought-after hairstyle).

But I almost always put on earrings and it makes me feel happy every single time.

I have a small collection of earrings that I wear regularly.

And then I have a slightly bigger secondary collection that includes earrings I only wear occasionally and/or to which I have a deep sentimental attachment.

While I wear earrings 95 days out of 100, I do not leave them in. Ever. I can count on one hand the number of times I have slept with earrings over the last decade. I usually take them out when I nap, too. And always, always, always when I shower.

Aside from the discomfort of sleeping in earrings, I also really enjoy the experience of selecting my daily pair. It’s a comforting ritual that helps jump-start my day, much like a first cup of coffee.

I store my earrings in two small containers; the hand-carved wooden box I received as a teenager from someone who had visited Russia, the blue heart came from John via my mother-in-law (I think?!).

The heart contains my everyday earrings. These are almost all studs, my favourite type of earrings to wear.

Chances are if you were to bump into me on the street, I’d be wearing one of the pairs pictured below (most of which came from John; he does a great job picking out earrings to suit my style).

As for my “secondary” earrings, almost every pair has a story.

For example, in the top row of the picture below, the sets of dangling pearls were from Etsy for $.99/pair. I bought them years and years ago, and it felt like a huge deal to buy earrings online! Just to the left are the dangling silver baubles Abby picked out; she is elated whenever she sees me wearing them. They look like a collection of little disco balls and are very fun and whimsical.

The pair on the bottom left of the middle row? John got me those for my birthday and I promptly dropped one down the bathroom sink when I was getting ready one morning; the handyman at our apartment complex kindly came to rescue it for me.

The pearl studs in the middle were gifted to me by John on the day I graduated from university to replace a pair I lost…down the drain of a shower. (Hence why I don’t wear earrings in the shower – or when I’m swimming.)

The black shimmery pair on the far right of that row came from Dot (for anyone new to this blog, Dot was a very feisty 80-year-old lady I boarded with in university) from one of her annual winter trips to Jamaica.

But my favourite pair is a tiny set of Eiffel Towers, pictured in the bottom left corner. Abby discovered them at a seaside store here in Nova Scotia (#random) and bought them – in secret – days before John and I left for a trip to Paris. I was absolutely gobsmacked when she handed these over to me. So if you’ve ever wondered about my sidebar photo, the whole point of that shot was to showcase my Eiffel Tower earrings in front of the real Eiffel Tower so I could send the picture home to my 8-year-old who spent her hard-earned money to buy me this set of earrings – she’s a keeper!).

And that…is all the earrings I own/wear.

When I have a pair of earrings I no longer want to keep (e.g. I’m not going to wear them or they’re not deeply sentimental) then they don’t stay in my house. I either pass them on to someone or take them to a local consignment store that collects, sterilizes and sells earrings (4 of the sets pictured above come from this consignment store).

And if you’re wondering about other accessories, there aren’t any. I own one necklace and, aside from my wedding and engagements bands, don’t own a single ring (and got rid of all my scarves because I just wasn’t wearing them).

While daily use of earrings is pretty much a “must” for me, makeup is far more hit-and-miss. I’d categorize my makeup stash as being of the “blink and you’ll miss it” variety.

I do not own a single face cream – that little container with the black lid was an individual serving of honey from an airport lounge that is now filled with coconut oil. This is the only thing I use to remove makeup, along with special microfibre cloths, and it is my only moisturizer.

Another fun fact – I haven’t owned blush in years. Before my wedding, I set out to buy lipstick (which I never, ever wear); the woman at the Clinique counter told me that the best way to match my lipstick and blush tones for the big day was to use lipstick on my cheeks in place of blush. I did and haven’t looked back.

Here is the totality of my makeup collection:

  • Mascara (I wear this 2-3x/week).
  • Eyebrow pencil (4-5x/week)
  • Foundation/concealer stick (4-5x/week)
  • Lipstick-blush (4-5x/week)
  • Nivea lip balm (3-4x/week)

I think this qualifies as minimal? No eyeshadow. No bronzer. No under-eye brighteners or creams. No palates. No toners or BB/CC creams or liquid foundations. No brushes or Beautyblenders.

I do own one tube of eyeliner which I keep to use on the kids’ cheeks at Halloween (typically for freckles including, in recent years, for a “lion,” “Prairie girl” and “chef”).

And that’s a wrap on my accessories and makeup.

I’ll be back with a roundup of what’s hanging in my closet another day, but now it’s your turn to spill the beans – do you love your sleeper hoops and put on a full face of makeup every morning?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash