The Use What You Have Club

IMG_5249Let me tell you about something I am super excited about. Excited enough to end a sentence with a preposition! It’s probably the biggest project I have planned for the whole year. It’s called the Use What You Have Club.

It was developed, of course, in conversation with Hillary. We were talking sometime in January about wanting to be a  little more conscious of our shopping habits, particularly in the craft supply arena. Eric and I had just had a budget meeting, and while we’re very fortunate indeed to have everything we need, there’s not usually much left at the end of the month. I’ve always kind of loved budgeting–I so appreciate the sacrifice when I can tangibly see the reward. It’s empowering to feel like I am choosing not to buy things in one area so that I can put that little bit of money toward something else. I’ve been doing it since my childhood days. Just ask my mom, who remembers me asking for a receipt for 74 cents’ worth of candy at Mr. Bulky.

This year there are three big things we want to put our savings toward: 1) savings for Micah, 2) travel, and 3) childcare and front-end investments for the career I am working on building. (The childcare dovetails with it, since I need some time to work). Since that meeting in January, I’ve been in savings mode. I get books from the library. (I mean, I always have, but I’ve been extra serious about it of late.) I don’t buy coffee while I’m out. (However! Peet’s makes this very easy on me. Every time I buy beans there, about every two weeks, they give me a card for a free coffee or tea. I have about 20 of them, so…free coffee dates for Mommy! What I am telling you here is that is you live nearby and want to be my friend…there is free coffee in it for you. This little bit of free luxury is so very nice.) The exception is that Micah, of course, gets whatever he needs. If it’s clothes, though, I try to find them secondhand first, my humble homage to any parent who was able to keep baby clothes clean enough for resale. (However! It’s getting hot here, and I just ordered him a swim float and a swim diaper. Based on his great love for bath time, I think swimming is going to be a huge hit!)

There is always a delicate balance, though, between the virtuous satisfaction of saving money and a burdensome feeling of privation. In order to alleviate the latter, the Use What You Have Club lets me have tons and tons of fun with the stuff I already have. And boy howdy, do I have a lot. Most of it was given to me or bought dirt cheap at places like the Depot or even thrift stores, but some of it was bought for specific projects (with coupons! I cannot resist the siren song of saving money!). Since I’ve finally gotten my little studio organized, I’ve been working on a huge Google spreadsheet of all my arts and crafts supplies. Hillary and I are doing it jointly, to add to the crafting fun, so we have a column for the supply, where it is, and what we plan to make with it. It’s divided into pages by category: knitting, sewing, paper crafts, etc. It’s a majestic thing to feel so organized. And it also helps tremendously when I don’t have much time on my hands. I open the spreadsheet, do a quick scroll through, and find something that sounds like fun to work on. I love it.

This little project has another end goal too. For a long time Hillary and I have talked about opening an Etsy shop. It will be called “Dilettante Status,” in reference to my joke with her that I am basically a dilettante at everything, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it! I don’t know when this shop will actually be created because we are two moms with three kids, and our sweet ones always take precedence. But we have a big dream for it. Even though we are trying to save money and be intentional about our spending, we are so very aware of how much we have. We wanted to find a way to give to others through our shop, and specifically to empower other women. We are planning to use our (very hypothetical at this point!) proceeds to make Kiva loans to women supporting themselves and their families around the world. If you’re not familiar with Kiva, it’s a micro-loan non-profit. You can make a $25 investment in someone’s business (agriculture, sales, the whole gamut), which will then be repaid to your account at a specific time. Each loan has multiple contributors, and each of them are repaid; once the money is back in your account, it can be loaned again. My parents put $50 in an account for me in 2009, and I have lent it out 13 times since then. I love that my tiny little bit of money has been able to help so many people. And I love the organization, which Charity Navigator gives 4 out of 4 stars (nobody paid me to say all this–I just really like them!)

So that’s our project and our plan! I am so happy that we found a way to save money and use it more purposefully for our families, to enjoy using the things we have, and, hopefully, to share with others from the great abundance of what we have. Three cheers for the Use What You have Club!

*An addendum! I realize that I forgot to add two other little accommodations to this savings plan. One is called Reasonable Investments. I am keeping a list of things I could buy that would allow me to use seven other things that I already have, instead of buying one thing that requires me to buy seven other things in order to use it. This is partly because my assortment of craft stuff is a bit haphazard, so I’ll be saving my Michael’s coupons for those things. Also, there is a special coffer of Christmas money, generously supplied by my wonderful parents (all four of them), so that is available for the occasional meal out, thrift store splurge, or something I really want or need. Those two things keep me from feeling too squeezed in by the savings plan. Balance! It’s a beautiful thing.

My Little Studio

IMG_5204Eric and I used to use our second bedroom as an office, and it was a sweet little luxury to have after lots of years of working at our desks in our living rooms. But we always hoped that the office was a placeholder for the room’s real purpose: the nursery. After I made it through my first trimester, we started working on moving our stuff out, so we could move our little one’s stuff in. We are really lucky to have a good-sized bedroom, but I credit Eric’s spatial engineering genius for finding a way to make it all fit! A bit of rearranging allowed us to fit our two desks in along the walls, and left a little corner for me to use as a studio. I really, really love it.

IMG_5206The narrow little card table is a perfect profile for the space, and gives me room for my sewing machine and a good little bit of stuff I use frequently, along with some projects in progress. It’s lightly paint-spattered, and I like that. Underneath it is a bin full of fabric, and a few other odds and ends. The walls will probably never be finished because I have been wallpapering with little things I clip out of magazines and brochures since I was a teenager, and I’ll never stop. Featured here are some maps, a Palomar poster that preceded the studio space, a few postcards from The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, a couple of little images I made, and a giant dinosaur birthday poster I made for Eric when we were dating.

IMG_5207My ribbons are just wound around cardboard tubes. They double as decor and a reminder to use them.

IMG_5211To the left are my supply drawers, full to bursting. I love being able to see what I have. I’m so grateful to have this little bit of space and a little bit of time to work in it. In the mornings I make the bed, open the shutters, and turn on the lamps, and then my studio is ready for the day.

Every Little Thing is Magic

What have we here? A relic of life in my early twenties. A sink full of apples. When I first moved to Berkeley to start grad school in 2004, I was there for a month before I got my first stipend check from my fellowship. Given that I’d just come back from an unpaid internship at the Dostoevsky Museum in St. Petersburg, things were pretty tight there for a little while. Luckily, I discovered the magic of the bargain produce bin at Berkeley (sadly, it took me a few more years to discover that the Bowl’s produce prices were so good that I probably could have afforded non-bruised apples. Oh well.). I’d show up right when they opened in the morning and get all the fruits and vegetables I could: huge bags of slightly bruised apples, bell peppers with a few blemishes, grapes that had come loose from their bunches, pears a bit past their prime, whole artichokes slowly grading from green to brown. All of these big hulking bags were one dollar or less, and I considered them treasures. A few minutes with a paring knife, and they were good as new.

When I got home to my little apartment, with its hardwood floors, bright kitchen, double tiled sinks, and rush of traffic from busy Dwight Way, I’d wash everything right away, so I could just grab a few pieces of fruit as I ran out the door. I remember lots of trips to the Bowl and tons of these clear plastic bags, but what I remember more than anything was the apples. They were one of my main food groups that first year. I was so overwhelmed and overworked that I mostly ate a simple rotation of quesadillas, spinach lasagna, and yogurt/fruit/nuts. I didn’t actually learn to cook for four more years.

It’s crazy how this one little photo (stumbled upon in Picasa while looking for something else) brought all those days right back to me. All the pots of coffee I made to fuel the late-night homework sessions, with my papers, notebooks, and dictionaries spread all over the table. Long walks in the pouring rain to my Descriptive Grammar class. The post-it note I left by my front door during that long winter: “Turn off electric blanket.” Saturdays spent in the department library trying to translate Soviet poetry lauding concrete (no joke). Fall afternoons baking pumpkin bread and reading Doctor Zhivago. Trekking through all four levels of the subterranean library, my backpack full to bursting with books. Having my breath taken away every time I saw the city lights driving back to the East Bay from San Francisco. Not being able to believe, on a daily basis, that I could possibly live in such a gorgeous place and be paid to read books and discuss them with brilliant people. An ocean of memories, full of waves and tides, caught in a few hundred pixels.

I had a similar experience recently when I was checking my Amazon account to see when something was going to be delivered. In a flash, there were all of my orders from the past year.The one that brought tears to my eyes was a set of newborn mittens, which we found waiting for us the day we brought our sweet baby home from the hospital. It was hot, and we were hungry, and we had this tiny precious new person to care for. I fed him in the afternoon sunlight, and then those mittens went straight on, since we were too scared to cut his nails for weeks on end.

And just yesterday I went to Trader Joe’s to get a few things (mostly cottage cheese…and chocolate), and I picked up a few bags of Eric’s favorite trail mix. It’s kind of the holy grail of trail mix: almonds, cashews, pistachios, cherries, cranberries, chocolate chips. I put a handful in my mouth and was immediately taken back to the first days we had Micah home. I lived on that trail mix, often inhaled at 6am after an early feed, along with scones and pastrami sandwiches, delivered by the world’s greatest friend.

And so for several months now I’ve been thinking about this: how every little thing is magic. I sometimes feel a pressure to keep lots of things for the sake of memory, and there are indeed plenty of storehouses of them around here. But there are also quite a lot of things I’ve let go. And so I just had this wonderful sense of peace that whatever little thing it is that I decide to keep, or whatever thing is automatically archived for me online or on the shelves of my local grocery store, that little thing holds a whole world within it.

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