Mary Beth Writes

Our internet service had been goofy all that day; the house alarm system sent a random beep to my phone at 3AM. Waking from deep sleep to “Is there a bad guy coming up the steps right now?” turned into the kind of insomnia that requires … decluttering videos. My heart stopped racing as I watched a mild woman talk about the closet in her laundry room.

My first response was, “Closet in the laundry room? Doesn’t one just take the clothes to the washer and then the next day, when they are a large, wrinkled wad in the dryer, take them back to the bedrooms where they live?  Why would there be a closet in a laundry room?”

Whatever. She opened the closet door and Honest to Pete, there were more household products in there than in any average city bodega.  Rows and rows of deodorants, shampoos, soaps, and detergents crammed in like disorganized platoons of plastic soldiers.

I assume she buys products with coupons, gets much better deals than I do, and that is the reasons she needs to spend a morning decluttering the hundreds of products in her laundry room closet.

It was not easy to sell our house in Racine. The market was slow, and our house was, ahem, low glam. Our agent predicted sales would be brisker the following spring, but we didn’t want to live there six more months to see if she was right.

She had set a price based on the last few houses that had sold in our beautiful, close-to-Lake Michigan neighborhood.  But our house had been on the market nearly a month and not much was happening except stress.

That’s when we started wondering more intently about our asking price. The agent had only compared us to a few houses. When we wanted to know more, she graciously produced a six-page list of all the ranch houses that had sold inside and close to Racine that year.

Len and I spent a very long evening looking up those listings on the Internet. One-by-one we checked out what they looked like on the inside as well as figured out what neighborhoods they were in.  Then we divided the price they sold for by the listed square footage. It was a lot of work and we learned a lot.

Our house was listed at the same per square foot price as a house with a gorgeous kitchen, a spectacular view of Lake Michigan, and a pool out back. We also learned per square foot price of plainer houses in less impressive locations. We dropped our price to less than that top house, but still quite a bit more than most of the places we had researched.  Our place sold in two weeks and we didn’t feel cheated.

I’m guessing the woman in the decluttering video lives in a 3000 square foot house in a pricey development in a nice community.  Let’s guess that she and her husband bought it for $500,000.

That closet was about 3’ by 4’ which is 12 square feet. Her $500,000 house, divided by those 3000 square feet, equals about $167 per square foot. Multiply that by 12 and the real estate value of her closet is $2000- not including interest or taxes.

If she is financially savvy enough to stock up on products with coupons; then she cares about budgeting.  Yet will she save enough on those products to pay back the cost to store them? Nope.

I’m not here to criticize other people’s choices.  Maybe extended family lives with her.  Maybe she has a passel of kids and foster kids.  Maybe someone in their family uses a wheelchair so a big house is just easier.  

Still, the “cost per square foot” of one’s home is a handy tool for figuring out what you really have and how you want to use it. Thinking about that figure adds excitement to clearing out stuff you no longer need or use. A filled garbage bag is around 3’x3’ (depending on what’s in it). That’s nine square feet of space. If you can give away ten bags of stuff, you have just added 90 square feet of territory to your house - about the size of a bedroom. 

Obviously, nothing is this simplistic. If you have one bedroom and some kids and now grandma needs to move in, decluttering your coffee mugs isn’t going to solve where to put her. (Unless she is VERY small.)

Then again, I overheard some parents talking to another. “We’re adding a family room because we don’t have any more room to put all the toys.”

No one asked me to add this last part, but here I go.  The Racine AAUW has a GIANT used book sale twice a year.  Most of their thousands of novels etc. sell for around $1. Bigger, rarer books are a bit more.

Their next sale will be October 31st til November 10th (see their site for details). 

Proceeds go to their scholarship fund for women; a program which is organized and administered in a thoughtful, focused way. They work hard to reach into the community to find their scholarship recipients.

August for many of us is a quiet month. Sometimes the weather is marvelous; other days it’s so hot you can watch birds sweat. This might be a great time to thin your tomes. Give yourself a few more square feet of space!

How to donate and other details at:

If you don’t live near Racine but might see me before the middle of October, I’d be glad to transport a few bags or boxes of your books to the sale site for you.







Leonard's picture

I read about the AAUW -- and, I know that you meant to speak about it as a way to GET RID of books. Alas, I love books and I love to buy more. I will probably go to the next sale; here's hoping I don't buy back volumes you gave away! INFO ON NEXT SALE:

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Big Shopping & Quick Shopping

Len and I are buying groceries differently than we used to and we are saving $100-250 per month doing so. If you know us, you will have noted that neither of us are any slimmer.  This is not about eating less.

Mindful Chickens - the "It's been a while" edition

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.


Mindful Chickens in Canada

In case you don't already know... My husband and I did a 15-day road trip to eastern Canada.  Kurt Vonnegut wrote “Unexpected travel is like dancing lessons from God.”  The plan was to visit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – but then Hurricane Dorian changed that. Stories and photos at my website.

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

How I saved Tens of Thousands of Dollars Lately and also got a New Kazoo

Just in case you thought I stopped paying attention to how to live cheap and well. 

1. For several months we have composted veg and fruit scraps - our weekly garbage reduced by half! We collect detritus through the day in a bowl on the counter, carry it out to a steel garbage can we brought from our last house. I’ve dug some of this collapsed organic stuff into the garden.

Less Lemming, More Living

Last week I posted an essay railing against our North American/western maniacal consumerism. We are so deep into climate crisis and into destabilizing world poverty caused by the oligarchy of the few.  Something has to give. Plus this: If we are living on $50,000 a year or more, we are already earth’s top 1%. Isn’t this nuts? It really is up to us to turn back this crazy lemmings’ march to the sea.

Mindful Chickens/ The "Before its Too Late" Edition 5-14-2019

Mindful Chickens   5/14/2019

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.

These are things we have thought, attempted, and done in the past month to live more lightly and frugally on our City Plot of Planet Earth.

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