The organizing struggle continues

I’ve written three posts detailing my mission to help my mother organize (Helping a collector organize, A collector chooses organization, Organizing payoff). While she’s more willing to let go of things than when we started 16 months ago, she’s still extremely sentimental and somewhat unrealistic about craft projects she plans to start and/or finish. She also continues to shop and add to her collections. (BIG SIGH!)

We continued working in her garage going through boxes. Some of those boxes were packed two moves ago! It’s reasonable to think that if she hasn’t needed anything in those boxes since 2003 she doesn’t need any of it now. I really don’t mind her sifting through the paper to see if there might be a photo or money, but I get a little cranky when she wants to read cards or articles from long ago. However, I’ve learned this is what she needs to do to let go of things, so I summon all the *finesse I can muster and remain silent.

I’ve also learned that she doesn’t keep or buy things because she was raised in the depression-era. She keeps and buys things to give away to others. She’s not content to give these things to a Goodwill or Salvation Army unless it’s really something no one would want. If there’s the slightest possibility she can personally find a new owner for her stuff, she will hold onto it with clenched fist.

Progress is slow, but we did manage to fill three boxes which are sitting in the back of my Acura MDX awaiting drop off at the local thrift store, fill her recycle can half way, and fill her garbage can to the top. We also brought in a shelving unit to get some of the containers off the floor. I have to focus on what we accomplished rather than what is left to do. I’ll go crazy otherwise.

I need to schedule one day a month to help her through this process. She tries to go through things on her own, but is easily distracted by the memories brought to mind. I could just let things be, but mom turns 81 this month and at some point we will have to deal with the clutter. I’d rather spend time doing it with her, than without her.


My organizing finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your organizing finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Flying on the cheap


Some of the beautiful landscape at Eagle Crest

I love to travel. I enjoy exploring new places, as well as visiting old favorites to just relax. We take at least three vacations a year by car to Eagle Crest Resort, which is about a two-hour drive from our home. We pack up our Acrua MDX, hit the road, grab some groceries in the town near the resort  and move into the condo for a week of relaxation. We’ve been doing this since 1991, and it truly feels like a second home to our family.


I LOVE my MDX! Great car for travel!!

However, as much as we enjoy Eagle Crest, we occasionally like to get out of our comfort zone and explore sites and visit friends out of state. This usually means traveling by airplane rather than car. I don’t mind riding in or driving the MDX (it’s a very comfortable car!), but driving takes a lot of time and we’d rather spend our vacation hours at our destination rather than traveling to get there.

Plane tickets and all the fees can get pretty spendy, but we’ve been flying on the cheap for years. In fact, we haven’t paid full fare since 2000! How do we do it? We accumulate frequent flyer miles and use great *finesse to stretch their value.

We are members of the Alaska Airline mileage plan, but most airline programs are similar. The vast majority of our earned miles have nothing to do with flying. We accumulate miles by using an Alaska Airlines Visa and an Alaska Airline debit card. We use the cards for anything and everything possible, and the miles add up quickly. When we built our house, we put all of our construction purchases on our Visa card, and paid off the balance with the construction loan draw. Those were big purchases that really helped build the account.


When we use our miles for a flight, we rarely use miles for the entire purchase. If you do, you won’t accumulate the miles flown on that flight. However, if you use miles and cash, you can accumulate the miles flown. For a one way discounted ticket, you can use 10,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $100 on a less expensive itinerary, or use 20,000 miles and receive a 50 percent discount up to $200 for a more expensive destination.

Each year we receive a discounted companion fare, which allows us to purchase a ticket for $99 with the purchase of a full fare ticket. This is always a better option than using miles and cash. We recently flew to Alaska using this option.

When we fly, we usually stay in a hotel and rent a car. We earn miles just by using our mileage plan’s hotel and car rental partners (and there’s usually a discount). We pay our bill using our Alaska Airlines Visa to earn even more miles!

Do you want to fly more often and spend less? Try what works for us!

  1. Join a mileage plan and really get to know the benefits.
  2. Accumulate miles doing things you already do, like purchasing groceries and fuel.
  3. Research the best way to use your miles for maximum benefit.
  4. Use car rental and hotel partners when you travel to earn even more miles.

Do you have any tips for flying on the cheap?

My travel finesse level:
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your travel finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Vacation for health

I’ve taken four vacations so far this year, am currently enjoying my fifth, and have a sixth scheduled. The husband has traveled with me, except for my trip to Alaska. We normally take three vacations per year in the spring, summer and fall, so this year has been unusual.

A beautiful fall morning at Eagle Crest Resort in Central Oregon.

Normally, we pack up our Acura MDX and drive a couple of hours from home to a resort we’ve been visiting since 1991. We enjoy a relaxing week with no schedules, no airports, no hotels, no car rentals and no restaurants – and the weather is usually better than at home. We’re able to completely unwind and reenergize, so it’s reasonable to assume there are psychological benefits to taking vacations. However, research shows vacations can benefit you physically, as well.

Sunrise over the Deschutes River at Eagle Crest Resort

According to an article in Psychology Today, studies show that “vacation is good for your cardiovascular health and your waistline, lowers your cortisol levels and your blood pressure, and may aid in recovery from diseases like cancer.”

Vacations don’t have to be expensive or in some faraway location, and they don’t have to be a week long. Even the simplest of getaways can benefit your health. Why wait?

Recycle for savings

I’m pretty good with recycling stuff. I know what can be recycled at our local landfill and sort it accordingly. I recycle because I believe we should be good stewards of what’s been entrusted to our care, including the environment and finances.

It’s difficult not to see the connection between being good stewards of the environment and good stewards of your finances. Disposing of many recyclable items is free, but if I toss them into the garbage I’m charged for their disposal. Why would I pay to do something when I have another option?

However, not everything can be recycled easily or without charge. Block Styrofoam is a real pain! Our local landfill won’t take it unless we include it in our garbage. That would not only be bad for the environment, but it takes up an enormous amount of space and would cost more than I’m willing to pay, so I began researching options.

The husband actually found a location that takes block Styrofoam, and the charge is very reasonable at $5 for a carload. Yesterday I loaded up my Acura MDX with the Styrofoam we’d accumulated and called my mom to see if she had any to add (doesn’t everybody?!). I filled the back cargo space and half of the backseat and headed off to Total Reclaim. I had an appointment in the same area, so I was saving time and fuel, as well!

It feels great to be rid of the space-hogging Styrofoam, and even greater to know I disposed of it in a manner that preserved the environment AND my money. Now that’s what I call *finesse!

My recycling finesse level:  Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert

What’s your recycling finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Yard sale recap

The topic of my post last week was our upcoming yard sale, the husband’s reluctant cooperation and the fact that “I seriously lack *finesse in the yard/garage sale business.” Now that it’s over I know I still have a lot to learn, but the experience was fun, tiring, educational and surprising.

It was fun meeting and talking with neighbors, friends and strangers. Many people mentioned that they drive past our house often and complimented our home and landscape. It’s always nice to hear that people appreciate the effort you make to keep your property looking nice.

It was tiring gathering, cleaning, pricing and moving all the sale items, then putting up tables to display it all. It was tiring moving it all at the end of day one, moving it out again for day two, and then boxing the leftover items for donation when it was finished.

It was very educational, and I learned the following:

  • If all you have to offer is knick-knacks, you’re better off donating than having a yard sale.
  • Tupperware sells!
  • Price like items separately, but offer them as a set for a discount.
  • Set prices low enough to interest buyers, but high enough to allow them to negotiate.

It’s surprising what people will buy and what they will ignore. A newer desk and file cabinet were of no interest to anyone regardless of price, while a loveseat and chair we purchased in 1980 received a lot of attention before selling for the full price. It’s surprising and somewhat strange how customers come in groups. I’d be sitting there with no one stopping by for 15 to 20 minutes, then all of the sudden three cars would pull in one after another. The biggest surprise was the amount of cooperation I received from the husband. This was going to be a one day sale, but he suggested we extend it through Saturday. He gave me breaks when I needed them and was very helpful moving things. He was quite enthusiastic as we packed up his truck and my MDX with the leftovers and dropped them at Goodwill!

I slightly exceeded my goal in terms of money earned, which made the sale worth the time and effort required. Would I do it again? Yes, but only if we have enough large items to sell, otherwise it makes more sense to just donate the small stuff and get a tax write-off. Goodwill and Salvation Army will still see plenty of me as I continue the seemingly never-ending task of clearing out clutter and organizing.

My yard/garage sale *finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert             

What’s your yard/garage sale finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Understanding expectations

The husband is not a great organizer when he has a limited budget. He just seems to lack the vision to see imaginative ways to create the desired effect without greatly affecting our financial bottom line. This is true regardless of whether he’s organizing his garage, or planning a celebration. It’s just not his forte.

It took me a while to realize he was not being thoughtless when he’d plan something lame and he was not being imprudent when he spent an extreme amount of money trying to make an occasion extra special. He was simply trying his best. Unfortunately, I didn’t hide my feelings very well, which caused him to have greater anxiety when planning the next occasion.

As our 30th anniversary approached, I decided enough of the unrealistic expectations. I was secure in his love for me and didn’t need him to turn himself inside out trying to do something spectacular. After all, this was his anniversary, too! I informed him that I was going to do all the planning and organizing, and to make it special for me, I was keeping our destination a secret. He just needed to drive our MDX and follow the instructions of the nice GPS lady. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that relieved.

As we got closer to our destination, he correctly guessed we were staying in Seattle. As I’d planned, the hotel allowed us to check in early so we could make our brunch reservation at the Space Needle. We were fortunate to have great weather, so the view was amazing. Another highlight was a carriage ride through the park. We both had such a great time that I decided I should make all the plans and keep them secret every year. He didn’t object.

After our 32nd anniversary trip, the husband said, “I’d like to try organizing the trip next year.” He explained that he had a better understanding of my expectations, and wanted to surprise me for a change. I was a little shocked and a little fearful. However, as our anniversary approaches, it’s fun to watch him be excited about doing something special for me, and that’s the best anniversary gift of all.

Lottery dreaming

The husband and I don’t regularly play the lottery, but when the winnings reach into the hundreds of millions we sometimes go and invest in one ticket and begin dreaming. How would our lives change if we suddenly became millionaires?

First of all, we believe in giving to charity and do so consistently. Ten percent of our winnings would be divided among our favorite charities. Secondly, we’d put all those “to do” projects around the house on the fast track, and we’d probably resurrect those projects we’d like to do (a shop for the husband), but have been buried on the “not realistic in the foreseeable future” list.  Then we’d want to help our son and daughter-in-law rid themselves of college loans.

Okay, what’s next? It would probably be smart to set up some investments that would cover our living expenses for the next 40 years, (yes, I’m optimistic we’re both going to live a long life) and we’ve always wanted to set up a charity. Of course we’d want to be generous with family and take some trips, maybe upgrade to a newer MDX (mine is a 2007, but has low miles, so it’s not a priority). However, even after doing that, we could still have an enormous amount of money unallocated.

I don’t think we can even imagine how much a million dollars is, let alone hundreds of millions. How in the world do people who win big find themselves broke a few years later?

It’s highly doubtful we will ever have the personal opportunity to discover what it’s like to manage a large amount of winnings. However, we’d like to think that while our lives would change – that’s inevitable – fundamentally, we would not. Deep down we’re committed to enjoying the simple things in life that can’t be purchased, like the contentment of just spending time together. I’d say we’re already winners!

Making the most of your miles

I love vacations! We get away to our favorite vacation spot, which is conveniently located about a two and half hour drive from home, three times a year. It’s nice to pack everything we might need for a week in the back of our Acura MDX and head to a place so familiar; it feels like a second home. However, once in a while we just want to mix things up a bit and fly away.

Like most people, we have limited discretionary income, so a vacation that involves an airline flight is not a yearly experience. However, with a little planning and a pinch of *finesse, we’ve managed to fly a family of four to Arizona for spring break, fly to family milestone events, and fly to visit family and friends without ever paying full fare. How exactly do we do that you ask? Frequent flier miles!

We’ve been members of the Alaska Airlines mileage plan since 1999. We don’t fly often, but our credit card and debit card purchases add miles at a pretty good rate. At first glance, we didn’t understand the program fully, but with a little research we learned how to make it work for us. Because our credit and debit cards are tied to the program, we rarely use cash or write a check for anything. If we’re going to spend money anyway, we might as well get a bonus!

We also learned the best way to redeem miles for a flight was not to purchase the full price of the ticket with miles. If you do that, you don’t get credit for the miles flown on that trip. We use a combination of miles and cash to receive a reduced fare. With Alaska Airlines, that doesn’t always mean you’re flying at half price, but it’s still a good value.

Occasionally it makes sense to use miles for the full fare, so I figure my flights based on two different scenarios. I check the price and miles needed for a round trip flight and compare it against two one way flights using all miles for the departure flight and a combination of cash and miles for the return flight. The one way flight scenario made more sense on my last flight. While I didn’t receive credit for the miles flown using the free ticket (well, almost free – I had to pay a $5 tax), it made more sense from a scheduling and financial standpoint. The round trip ticket was pretty expensive to depart and arrive at decent times without long layovers. Both scenarios required 20,000 miles so it made more sense to forgo the mileage credit on one leg of the trip in favor of a cheaper overall price.

I’ve flown three times this year already (a real rarity!) and have two more flights scheduled, so I’m beginning to feel like an expert. I’m also beginning to feel like that young man in local television commercials who declares, “We don’t pay full price for anything!” By the way, neither should you.

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Balancing work and play

The husband and I usually spend our weekends knocking items off our to do list. However, this past weekend not a single item was checked off. We took our noses off the grindstone and played and partied!

Our weekend kicked off on Thursday evening, attending a special viewing of The Avengers, courtesy of Acura of Portland (a perk of purchasing our MDX). Since we were among the first to see the movie, many have asked for our review. Two words: Good fun! Lots of humor, and it was pretty easy to follow even though we had only seen Iron Man and Iron Man 2. We topped off the evening with a HUGE slice of Motherlode chocolate cake at Claim Jumpers (we still have some leftover).

Friday evening we watched a DVD at home (Jesse Stone: Stone Cold – gotta love Tom Selleck!) after checking out the $11.99 special at Outback Steak House. Well worth the price, and the beignets were yummilicious! (Yes, that’s a word…)

Saturday wasn’t a complete play day, as the husband attended a class to fulfill his continuing education requirement, but it was pretty low-key. In the evening, I decided we needed to build a fire in the outdoor fire pit and try to view the Super moon. Lots of clouds, some drizzle drops, nice fire, but no moon.

Sunday’s agenda was non-stop. We were out the door by 9:30 a.m., driving an hour to attend the church my brother pastors. After church we drove almost another hour to attend a first birthday party for our great-nephew (on the husband’s side of the family), then drove around the block to visit another great-nephew and great-niece (on my side of the family). We headed back home around 4:30 p.m. You know you’re tired when you pass on the opportunity to grab half-price Frappuccinos at Starbucks on your way home. We were ready for bed when we got home, but since it was only a little after 6, we thought we should try to stay awake until at least 8 p.m.

It’s highly unusual for us to ignore the many tasks that should be done on our days off, but taking time to spend with each other and family is important – and fun! Living with *finesse is about balancing work and play. I guess that means playtime is over – time to get to work!

My balancing work and play finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert 

What’s your balancing work and play finesse level?

*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Making a thrift store convert

I took my sister on a little adventure last week. She’s a teacher, so I rarely see her between Aug. and June, but spring break gave us the opportunity to do a little shopping together thrift-store-style.

I don’t do a lot of thrift store shopping, but during an unplanned excursion a couple of months ago, I discovered just how much fun it can be. I had to take my MDX (love that car!) into the Acura dealership for service, and not wanting to use much fuel in the loaner car, I drove to the Goodwill store less than a mile away. I had time to really go through the merchandise, and this particular Goodwill was much more organized than those I occasionally visit closer to home. I scored some really nice stuff!

Then it was off to the recently opened Salvation Army store a block away. They were having their 50 percent off everything sale, so I hit the rack marked “Designer Labels.” I’m not a fashion snob by any means, but I figure those that are, probably take better care of their clothes (generally speaking). Many of the items looked as though they’d never been worn!

I picked up several tops with names like Ann Taylor Loft, Coldwater Creek and Liz Claiborne and didn’t pay more than $5 for any of them. One still had tags! I also picked up a nice “little black dress,” fully lined for $7.50!

My sister was skeptical, but couldn’t argue with my closet full of evidence, so agreed to shop the Salvation Army’s next 50 percent off everything sale.

We hit the designer label rack. We hit the dressing rooms. We scored! I’m not sure she’s as hooked as I am, but I am certain she’s now a believer!

My thrifty finesse level: 
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert       

What’s your thrifty finesse level?
Novice     Advanced beginner     Competent        Proficient        Expert