A few weeks ago I got a wake-up call that wasn’t exactly intended for me. Our friends Matt and Sharlene got the call that his 92-year old aunt had died. As the executor of her estate, this did not catch them by surprise. The surprise came after a long flight when they opened the door to their late-aunt’s home.

As they described what they were facing in a home stuffed to the brim with stuff, vicariously I was right there with them—overwhelmed by the enormity of the accumulation of clutter. What to do? Where to start? At that moment in my heart (and now publicly) I renewed my pledge to my husband and children: To the very best of my ability and as God is my witness, I will never leave a mess for you to deal with.

Admittedly, I am a clutter bug and I know why. I believe that everything I own has value. That means I must keep it. The struggle is real. Those books I’ll never open again or my old mobile phone that won’t hold a charge—they have to be worth something to someone. Right?

Or how about that box of video games? They still look good even though we don’t have the game station that goes with them. And that computer monitor. Sure, it’s small-ish and old, but it still works (I think). I can’t throw it out. All those movie DVDs! They cost a lot of money. And on and on it goes from the garage to the basement—every room has the potential to become a clutter magnet.  Read more

Faithful readers will recall that my husband and I have been testing and enjoying one of the popular meal kit delivery services.

Since writing about that (see Dinner-in-a-Box is Not at All What I Thought) I’ve gotten the most interesting feedback! But first, a quick review:

From the meal kit delivery services currently available, I selected Home Chef because 1) our zip code is in its delivery area—nearly 98% of the country is, 2) it is the cheapest and 3) I predicted it would be the most family-friendly. Turns out I nailed it. Home Chef meals are absolutely delicious and use normal, fresh food—not exotic fare or ingredients we’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce.

A Home Chef meal kit includes all of the fresh ingredients and instructions needed to cook restaurant-quality meals for 2, 4 or 6 people in the comfort of your own kitchen, eliminating recipe searches and food shopping by sending everything required for that meal—perfectly portioned and ready to go. Seriously, Home Chef is like having your own personal sous chef. Read more

Last week I turned to use my microwave oven only to have it glare at me with a fatal error message in its little display screen. What?!

I googled “Whirlpool” plus the error code and learned that the cost to replace the electronics that had blown out would be far greater than replacing the whole thing. Great. But not this week. Surely, I could get along without a microwave until some more convenient time to replace it, right? Wrong!

Every time I turned around it seemed I was reaching for that microwave. Within a couple of hours I realized that a microwave oven has become a staple item that is quite necessary in my typical American kitchen. But it wasn’t always that way.

I remember in 1971 when roughly 1% of households in America had a microwave oven. Most everyone liked the idea but it was also terrifying. The fear was radiation and the danger of standing within five feet of the thing and getting nuked. In 2017 a microwave oven is a minimum requirement.

Here’s my take: Instant Pot is the future’s “microwave.” While the Instant Pot company can barely keep up with the demand having sold more than 50,000,000 units so far, many people are still fearful that a pressure cooker is going to blow a hole in the roof, set the house on fire or any other number of irrational fears. Sure, pressure cookers are nothing new, but Instant Pot has taken this fabulous way of cooking to new levels of technology and safety.

Soon, I predict, Instant Pot will become an ordinary basic  kitchen appliance. New homes will come with Instant Pot built into the countertop. Top-of-the line cooktops will come complete with Instant Pot. And we’ll laugh about the days when people were afraid.

Instant Pot comes with an owner manual and recipe book. Both should be considered required reading but honestly, I found them to be unbearably boring while only marginally useful. What follows are the websites, tips, tricks and accessories that put me onto the fast track to falling in love with my Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W. I was cooking dinner the very first day, that’s how doable it is to master Instant Pot.

QUICK START

Perform the Instant Pot Water Test. Do not skip this.

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The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—an emergency fund with at least enough money to pay all of your bills for three to six months. Wait. Cannot even imagine being able to save that much? No worries. Start small. Let’s say $1,000.

Weekly, save 10 percent of your paycheck. Too much? OK, start with 5 percent or even 1 percent and build up from there. Just start!

FIRST THING. This is going to be hard, but I know you can do it: Make your planned savings amount the very first bill you pay—before anything else. Once you have accumulated say $50, go to your bank or credit union and open a savings account. While you are there, set up an automatic deposit authorization into your emergency savings account. Here’s a secret: You won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few paychecks, but soon you really will not miss it.

GET RID OF NON-ESSENTIALS. Give up the little things such as cable TV, eating out, and gym membership and landline. That’s a start, you’ll know instinctively how to add to this list.

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I know it’s time. It’s been time for at least two years, possibly longer. I need to clean my kitchen. Now, before you send the Health Department to my address, let me explain. What I mean by “clean” is that I need to clean out and organize my kitchen pantry, cupboards and drawers.

Kitchen Clutter

Photo credit: misteraitch

If you walked into my kitchen, you’d see a tidy and sanitary place. But don’t walk into the pantry or open a cupboard too hastily. Something might hit you on the head. At this moment, a bottle of Advil has been tossed on top of cereal boxes, which are resting on pudding boxes that have long ago expired. Read more

To say that I have had a love/hate relationship with handheld vacuums for many years would be to put it mildly. I love the idea of a handheld cordless vacuum that is charged up and always ready to make a quick pick-up—in fact, that’s pretty much on my list of life’s necessities.

But I hate when the thing runs for only a few minutes before it needs to be recharged and has such weak suction it really doesn’t do a very good job of picking anything up. It’s enough to make me want to pull my hair out!

I’m sure it’s been 30 years or longer since I got my first handheld Dustbuster. It would hold a charge for maybe two minutes if all the stars were properly aligned and I held it in just the right position. And the thing completely failed after only a short time—refusing to hold any charge at all.

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According to one online organization working to eliminate junk mail, the average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year—44% of it going to the landfill unopened. Sadly, much of it is from charities that are doing good in the world—all of them vying for our charitable donations.

Dear Mary: You recently wrote about paper shredders, which made me think about all the unwanted address labels my mother receives from charities. She has made a few donations other the years, and is now bombarded with unwanted mailing labels, cards, calendars, books, you name it. Some of the stuff you can give or throw away, but what do you do with all the labels? If you try shredding them, they jam up your shredder.

I’ve tried writing “Refused, Return to Sender” on the envelopes, but the post office refuses to send them back, ignoring my refusal. Any ideas on how can you get this type of mail stopped or getting rid of all the address labels? Peg

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This is a Book Reivew by Jeff Tompkins, Jr.  The opinions expressed herein are the reviewer’s own and meant only for informational purposes.

The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach

Reviewer: Jeff Tompkins, Jr.

Let’s face it, unless you’re a Marine, you’re probably not that crazy about the word “discipline.” It smacks of rules and constraints. Most of us just aren’t that keen to always do even those things that we know are good for us. Particularly in our financial lives. We know we should save more, spend less, invest smarter. We should be disciplined in these areas to achieve financial security.  So how do we get disciplined? According to the The Automatic Millionaire, by David Bach, we automate .

Bach focuses first on the idea of paying ourselves first. By this he doesn’t mean setting aside a couple of twenty dollar bills under your mattress each payday.  That would require discipline and the central theme of The Automatic Millionaire is that no one is disciplined enough to regularly save that way. Instead, Mr. Bach argues that the only way to get around our lack of discipline is to automate paying ourselves first, effectively taking our lack of discipline out of the equation.

Automating ones savings is becoming more and more prevalent in a tech-dominated world. It’s automatic, because once you set it up you don’t have to do a thing each month for it to continue putting funds into your 401k account or other savings vehicle. It’s the first money out so before you do any spending at all, you are saving. Read more