2017 Stretch Goal Reached!

I am amused the market is still standing so strong, having been expecting a correction for a long while now. Even more surprising to me, today we hit not only our end of year goal for 2017 but our stretch goal as well!

Originally we wanted to finish with $527.5 in assets and later stretched it to $555.5k, which we achieved today! (plus a little extra). Maybe I can dare to stretch it to $575k…mmm, we shall see. For now I will just leave it as mission accomplished and see what happens. I seriously feel like we JUST hit $500k so it is feeling a bit surreal.

Of course, a lot of this depends on the market and it may change but quite enjoying seeing that little number on the screen for right now. I am a goals person so putting the money aside, reaching the goal itself is filling me with internal high fives which I always appreciate.

Finally, we have been leaving a lot more than normal on a savings account ($20k right now, aiming for $30k by end of year) in anticipation of a potential temporary lapse of employment for one of us. And our mortgage balance is now under $100k (we don’t count our around $150k of home equity in our asset calculations above, with it we are at around $700k)! Yay for that, too!

Beyond our assets, we are still on track for paying down our debt and believe we will be hitting our expenses goal as well, though only just because we keep adding fun things to do like going to the theater and watch comics, multicultural events, etc! I am ok with that, brings complete balance to my “now”.

Here is where we stand at this very moment of time at the end of September 2017 vs EOY goals:

  • Assets: $555.8 – Stretch goal reached ($527.5 $555.5)
  • Debt: $122.2 –  On track for goal ($118k).
  • 529 balance (2): $55.7 –  Goal reached ($52.5)
  • Expenses YTD: $59.8 with vacations & insurance paid through EOY. On track for goal ($75k)

I am feeling quite optimistic about this progress! Best of all, as I am looking at my life more holistically as I explain here (life goals), I feel free, liberated and with the lowest levels of that little nagging constant anxiety of life that I have had in years!

How about you, how is life going, financial and beyond?

Minimalism Journey, In Pictures

I documented here our process and experience during our initial journey towards minimalism. In this first pass, which took about 3 months, we wanted to see how much we could let go off and experience for ourselves if this made any difference or not.

Absolutely one of the best things we have ever done.

Below are a few pictures to give you an idea of what our uncluttering looked like and what the end result looks like when we put out house back together….

Here goes!

The 3k+ Items!

I don’t have pictures of all of the things that left our home, but here is a small sampling to give you an idea. It was probably about 2 van fulls of stuff, packed to the brim.

Putting It All Together

After the uncluttering came the funnest part, putting our home back together to enjoy! Here are again a few select pictures to give you an idea. And yes, we still have a ton of books (about 160) but we started with more than double that!:

The Closets

Last but not least, using some of the KonMari method for some of our items has been awesome. Check out what some of it looks like!

What’s Next?

About 3k+ items later I can say this process has been transformative.  Next, we will live with this level of items for a while (ensuring that if we bring anything in something else comes out as much as possible), and then further decide if this is the right balance and or if we want to keep going.

Our initial reaction is that we could further reduce our clothing and books, and will probably set this as our next challenge when we are ready to start again. In addition, we will have some challenges in 2018 to start substituting some items that we use for less wasteful alternatives, so will be sure to share with you that progress as well.

For now, we are enjoying the new found space and tranquility that comes along with this. You really lose so much time putting away stuff which goes away when you don’t have stuff to put away in the first place!

How about you, how has this process changed you?

Minimalism Journey: Phase IV

This was the last big goal of our initial journey towards minimalism before we stopped and reassessed if this is where we found our balance or if we wanted to keep going and do more (or if we had gone too far!).

It was time to tackle the last random things we had like sewing stuff, collections (in our case coins and basketball cards), things of sentimental value inclusive of childhood items and or medals, diplomas, etc. extra bags in the attic and odd items stored in places like the laundry room.

Step 1: Goal

Eliminate all collections, reduce our sentimental value items to a minimum and clear out clutter in the final spaces in our house we had not tackled like the attic, laundry room, hall closet, etc.

Step 2:  Process

We again started with obvious things like coin and old card collections – we took them to a place to sell in bulk and got very little money, but when given to the kids they got a step closer to their savings goal so it was great! The laundry room was next, and it was actually not too bad in terms of extra items, we just got stuff to organize it a little better and get rid of a few random things like an almost empty bottle of detergent and a hanger that we never use.

We also found a few odd items in the attic like some shelves which we donated and all my sewing stuff (not much, a small tub of stuff). I cut my sewing stuff in half and converted one of my now empty closets into a sewing nook. At least hopefully I will use my machine more now that it is easily accessible.

Finally we moved to sentimental value items which was a little more difficult, but we were so excited about our results so far that we managed to really reduce it to a minimum (one small container for each of us).

Step 3: Assessing Results

Even though each area or theme did not yield that much on their own, taking a few things here and there really adds up! In the end, we cut around 3k items from our home, and you can really see and feel the difference.

This journey really has been very exciting. We really do feel like we have a little more time for things that matter most and we feel energized.

Next post I will show you the results, in pictures and out goals for the next phase of our journey!

Life Development Plan – A Practical Guide, Part III

With a clear idea of our goals and what success looks like from Part II of this series, it is time to implement.

Step 4: Capacity realignment

Time to to compare how, in practice, we actually spend our time vs what we just stated were our priorities.

I was shocked to discover how much of my time was going to things NOT on the list and how little to some others I deemed so important. Worse, I was spending too much valuable time with toxic people – no wonder I was stressed out and burned out!

Assess. Realign. Focus.

I freed some capacity to realign. I hold stronger boundaries, learned to say ‘no’ without guilt, protected my schedule fiercely to spend on my goals and have time to just ‘be’. I learned to gently detach myself from people and experiences not aligned with my goals.

Finally, I cut expenses that were not critical to free time towards things that were. A simple example – cut cable to have money for monthly massages. Win!

Step 5: Goal implementation

You have your priorities and gaps and capacity to work on them. As you recall (Step 3), I had several areas within my 6 buckets that needed extra focus:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables at least 4 times a week
  • Regular practice of mindfulness and meditation
  • Mindfulness and presence with kids
  • EOY expenses under $75k
  • Car replacement fund
  • Convertible rental

During the rest of 2017 and through 2018 I want to focus on improving the areas above, but not necessarily all at once or I would be too overwhelmed. I ranked the items by priority and focus on what I can realistically achieve.

Here is the plan:

2017 Q4 goals:

  1. Mindfulness and presence with kids – find at least 15 minutes daily with each child to give full undivided attention, away from distraction.
  2. Convertible car rental – just do it (weekend)!
  3. Focus on hitting EOY expense goal under $75k – be watchful of your expenses.

In order to continue to balance all the ‘usual life habits and priorities’ that I am managing successfully from my list, I am going to stop the focus here. Two of these are a matter of ‘just doing it’ while the first one is a matter of creating a habit so I will ensure I have enough time and energy to pursue that change.

The other goals –  meditation and eating better, will remain an aim, but not a focus until I feel I am ready to tackle that part and still balance the rest. Likely 2018 depending on my priorities then.

Step 5:  Tracking progress and continuous improvement

Assess progress, adapt accordingly.

I review goals once a month for progress. However, the most surprising benefit I found is, when I find myself having negative feelings like anxiety, greed, jealousy, anger, etc., reviewing these goals help me re-balance right back.

More often that not these feelings are because of something we are lacking inside and so instead of wasting time thinking about ‘others’ and what they are or are not doing, reading these goals center me on things in my control that lift me up.

I can’t even begin to describe the difference this has made in my level of fulfillment and contentment. I hope they do the same for you.

ETA: At the end of the year, all goals for 2017 accomplished except the fun car rental which will move to 2018. Time to draft a 2018 plan!

Now tell me – what is your life plan?! What version of you do you want to be when you grow up?

Life Development Plan – A Practical Guide, Part II

Continuing from the prep steps discussed in Part I, below we get a little more granular.

Step 3. Define current and success state

After listing your overall priorities, go one level deeper on each bucket so you have  clarity around what ‘success’ means for each of them. It is possible that during this exercise you need to readjust your priority buckets, add or delete some – that is ok.

Once  done, rate current state on a scale from 1-10 (10 being best).

For example, this is what my version of this exercise looks like today:

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 5.53.25 PMAssessment: in the health category,  I am doing well with my mental care and physical activity though I have to work on my eating and some of my spiritual practices,  as highlighted in orange, above.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.02.20 PMAssessment: Being mindful and present with my kids is the biggest area of opportunity here. Absolutely one that I will need to focus my attention going forward!

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.13.49 PMAssessment: Kudos to us for really focusing on the experiences that are important to us and making great progress! Very happy with where we are right now, just need to keep consistently doing the same.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.21.26 PMAssessment: My career is going very well. I am adding a lot of value, I love my job and I am setting myself up for success.  I have also kept my goal of networking with new people across the company and beyond, I need to just keep pushing myself and finish the year strong.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.37.53 PM

Assessment: Our financials are going strong, especially since we started to focus on them so much in the past year +. While we are on track for our expense goals, it will be close, so adding into a category to watch through end of year, as a focus.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.42.28 PM

Assessment:  I got all the tattoos I wanted done so we can even cross this off the current list! As for the convertible, I know which one I want to rent, I just keep putting it off (maybe I don’t want this enough and need to reconsider?). Finally, on the electric car replacement, we still have a few years to go I hope, but need to get better at putting  savings away towards replacing the car.

Conclusion

So far we took time to reflect about what we want our life to be like, we identified our life’s priorities, and we narrowed down what success would mean to us for each of them. Finally, we rated where we were with each priority, getting us ready to the next step of the process getting us to implementation.

Phase III will take us into specific steps to make a plan forward.

Life Development Plan – A Practical Guide, Part I

Planning For Your Best Self

I make a living helping executives achieve their professional development goals in corporate America. Today, I want to share how I apply these principles to my own growth, holistically.

I created (and follow) a ‘life development plan’: a comprehensive guide and plan to be the best person I can be, aligned with my personal values and goals.

I hope you find this guide useful and adapt any information you find valuable as you see fit to your circumstances and goals!

Ready to change your life?!

Step 1: Prep for your plan

Unclutter your mind to get ready to plan. Take a temporary social media break, avoid too many social events, etc. Do whatever you need to do in order to best look inward, in peace.

Are you ready to commit? If not, stop. You will not be successful until you are really ready to make this a priority.

Step 2: Scope your priorities

What are the most important priorities in life TO YOU that would define a successful and fulfilling life? Not according to your mom, priest, teacher, ex-girlfriend, crazy aunt, friend, boss or society. TO YOU.

“Big Buckets” are ok at this point, we will refine more later. Edit out items that are NOT your priority.

To give you an example, the below was my initial priority list from this exercise for 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 4.09.30 PM

Tip:

Feeling stuck? Try one of these exercises:

  1. What are the top 3-4 people you admire most in this world – dead of alive and why? What about them makes them amazing and what do you wish you worked on to be more like them?
  2. For a few weeks:
    • Journal how you feel after different experiences – hanging out with different type of people, after work, after doing a hobby, spending time with the family, running, etc. What lifts you up?
    • Write down very specific things that happened in your day (2-3 things) that you are grateful for. After a while see if you can find some trends among the things/moments that brought you most joy.

There is no set time for this exercise. It also does not have to be perfect or complete – we will always be a work in progress. If you get overwhelmed, start with one or two buckets and expand later.

Be as flexible as you need to be and get ready for a better you!!

In Part II of this series, I will show you how to take the priorities scope above and make these goals a lot more concrete so you can focus your attention where it matters most.

 

Minimalism Journey: Phase III

At this stage we switched towards monthly goals to try to keep this a new habit, a way of life, not just a thing to do once in a while.

Step 1: Goal

One month to 1/2 our book collection from 4 full shelves (28″ x 14″) with two rows of books each, plus three storage cubes full of kids’ books, to 2 full shelves and 1 kids’ bin.

Step 2:  Book Selection

Pairing down books is hard! And so we did it in stages, from easiest to hardest.

  1. Books in bad shape physically (recycled)
  2. Text books we will never use again
  3. Home design kind of books – we now do everything on online forums for ideas
  4. Children’s books that my kids have outgrown
  5. Travel guide books and maps
  6. Older books we don’t love and are not likely to read again, novels, etc.
  7. Books that we like but not on our immediate radar and are easily available at the library

Step 3: Assessing Results

The first 4 items above were relatively easy, 5 started to hurt and  6 and 7 were difficult, especially for my husband.

That said, I was surprised to feel relieved to give away books that “I will read some day” and were just sitting there (and my reading was going nowhere). Instead, I took out two books from the library during this time (on minimalism and happiness); I finished one in 2 days and in the process of reading the second one.

We still have a decent amount of books but this is good progress for us at this stage.  Further, we agreed not to acquire non borrowed or e-books from now on, else we will have to take 2 out for every one in.

Ready for Phase IV, our next challenge: Collections: old basketball cards from husband’s childhood and random coin collection from a family member that keeps sending them to us for holidays and birthdays :(.

 

Minimalism Journey: Phase II

Entering the second phase of the process was still not too difficult, but required a little more thought and commitment than phase I, as expected. During this time, I also checked out the book The More of Less by Joshua Becker (also a blog), which I recommend for those getting started on this journey.

We also watched Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, which gave us even more excitement about what we are doing.

Additionally, we read some lessons learned about the “does this bring me joy?” method of decluttering by Marie Kondo from her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You can find some of the lessons learned and tips here.

Lastly, we told our children that if we made any money out of selling their items we could give them that money towards the one big ticket item they are saving for (to replace a similar item :)). They warmed up a little more to the idea but still with some hesitation. We also explained again that some people do not have the fortune of having fun things to play with and we could share this joy with them. That helped a little, at least for one of the kids.

Step 1: Goal

Having gone through the initial high level decluttering, our goal here was to find another 500 items that do not bring us joy and or that simply we don’t use.

Step 2: Do I Need It? Does It Bring Me Joy?

We had a little bit more ‘low hanging fruit’ items to destash. For example a giant bag of nice kid clothes I wanted to sell, but that process was going slowly. Instead, I packed it up and gave it away to a crisis center. In addition I had a few items that I collected from ebay – an old camera, typewriter, a 1950s desk, which I posted on facebook for any of my interested local friends to pick up for free, while asking them to consider doing a nice act of kindness towards someone else as a pay it forward.

In the end, we only had a couple of items for sale, which made the process go faster and keep momentum going.

Once we were done with those obvious things, we took Marie Kondo’s advice and swapped to the strategy of tackling categories of things vs rooms. With this method we were able to reduce our clothes and kitchen items further.

Step 3: Assessing Results

Three awesome things happened in this stage.

First, we could actually start feeling and seeing the difference less stuff made in our day-to-day practical living. We were about 2k items down and unlike with the first round this was starting to really show! Plus our attic is almost empty, only a few more boxes to go and our bags and camping gear.

Second, we sold a bike of my kids’ stash and gave them the money, as promised, towards their new goal item. They were so shocked about the amount they got that they immediately ran upstarts and literally gave me like 15 more items asking if they could sell it all ha! I may just ‘buy’ it from them, donate and replace with the one item they want. They also started making comments about not needing stuff and noticed they wanted to spend more time with us outside. I actually have been having a little more energy to play with them, like checking off these goals is making me tackle the most important one which is being present with them  – win, win, win.

Lastly, it really got us thinking about how much we do actually need to be happy. We even starting thinking about trading to a smaller house! (right now we are on 2,100sq feet, our ideal would be about 1,600-1,800sq feet for 4 of us plus a dog). Not sure we will tackle this yet, but it certainly has us rethinking about potentially retiring even earlier if we can make do with less and be happy. Our definition of ‘enough’ may be revisited  towards FIRE.

We closed this phase by making plans for Phase III. In this phase we will tackle a category that had been put off for ‘later’. Well, ‘later’ finally arrived: time to say good bye to our books.

Follow our Phase III here.

Phase I here as a reminder.

Minimalism Journey: Phase I

A few months ago we started our minimalism journey as a family. The first phase consisted of the following:

Step 1: Goal Agreement

My husband and I talked about the importance and interest in doing this together and ensured that we were BOTH on the same page about achieving a simpler lifestyle.  At the beginning we did not want to become minimalists per se but at least move to a home with less clutter. We then explained it to the kids, with a lukewarm response.

Step 2: Initial De-cluttering

This part was relatively easy. We gave ourselves two months to get rid of obvious clutter, and decided that over 500 items would be a huge win. To our surprise, we were able to destash about 800 – 1k items! We recycled and threw away some things, donated the rest to different local organizations. Some of these initial things included:

  • Torn clothes
  • Socks without pairs
  • Clothes and shoes that no longer fit
  • Jewelry that had not been used in years
  • Broken and outgrown toys
  • Paired down winter shawls and scarfs
  • Old towels and bedroom sheets
  • Extra kitchen items that we don’t use
  • Magazines or damaged books
  • Expired food
  • Old medicines, cosmetics and other personal products
  • Old tooth, hair and makeup brushes
  • Art that we had in storage and clearly no intention of using
  • Electronics we no longer use or had multiple
  • Years of papers stored in the attic no longer needed
  • Sewing fabric that would not be used
  • A third old car

Step 3: Assessing Results

We found this process calming and frankly addictive. Even our kids started to bring us stuff they wanted to donate, but to a limited extent. This is when we decided that we could do better and reduce further.

Not only did we feel more in control and calmer but it felt good knowing that other people would be using the stuff we had in our house ‘just in case’. It also felt good to start putting into practice a more congruent approach to what we preach – a meaningful simple life that would focus on our top life priorities.

And so we decided to move this process forward and begin Phase II.