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Archive for July, 2011

Taking back the house, Clothing Purge

July 30th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

After two solid days of cleaning and yard work, we have taken back control of our house. The mess from the housesitters is gone. I just have to clean in the basement which is not a big deal. Our new dryer was delivered yesterday so I can also start washing some window sheers that are very dusty, my crumb covered dining room table cloth, as well as the bedding from the guest room that they slept in during the summer. I am so relieved to have the housesitters dirt, grime and hair gone (well pretty much gone)! We are also completely unpacked.

Our grass looks very nice. We did some more raking to get up more clippings since the lawn was so high when we got back. We also weeded the most visible shrubbery beds so at least from the street and driveway, our yard looks well-kept. We also hand-trimmed the yard-tall grass around all of the things one would normally trim. The housesitters had never once trimmed. We still have to weed the entire back yard which includes a big hillside and power wash the deck and porch. We live at the bottom of a big hill just below a huge trickling spring and just above a stream so our house sits in a very wet environment. This creates a lot of green mold-like stuff that grows on our house, porch, and deck. I will be scrubbing the front steps today with a bleach solution.

To save money, we have what we call an "equipment alliance" with our next-door neighbor. We share a power washer, snow-blower, push-mower, a spreader, and certain tools. If things need to be fixed, we share the cost. This works so wonderfully. We don't each need these things as they get used fairly infrequently. We have a lawn tractor and use the pushmower on the steep and wet parts so we don't need it a lot either.

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Since we moved all of our things out of our closet and dressers to make way for the housesitters things, we had to move them all back in. This was the perfect time to purge items that a) were damaged, b) very old and out of style, c) did not fit, and d) were excess items. Because we lived in Sweden for 7 months and had to take everything with us when we flew, we took very little. We learned to live with just a few items of clothing and realized how much excess we had so we decided to add the "excess" category when we did the purge. We ended up donating 4 big, black garbage bags of clothing to our local charity. This was about 65% or more of what we owned. it felt really good to get rid of these things! Our closet is half empty and our drawers are half full. Now I need to work on the kids' closets.
This will also save money since I know now exactly what I need to buy for work for my new job. I tried on a lot of things and realized that I had some nice outfits that I had bought for interviews, my mother's funeral/viewing and my brother's wedding and rehearsal dinner in the last 5 years. I will be able to cut the amount I thought I would need for work things in half. Now I need to get busy on the kids' closets so I can see what they actually need to start school. My DS10 was going to a private school where he wore a uniform so he may need some new things since he is moving to the public school. Most of his regular clothes are hand-me-downs from his older brother and have seen quite a bit of wear and staining. My older son just turned 13 and is growing so fast that I know most of his things that we did not take to Sweden are too small since most of the things we did take are too small. He needs new everthing except shoes, socks, and underwear. I just need to figure out how much he needs.

jet-lag, US prices, and housesitters

July 29th, 2011 at 10:52 am

My family has just returned from 7 months living in Stockholm, Sweden. It was very strange to go to the grocery store for the first time when we got back to the US. Things seem so much more expensive than I remember. Specifically, meat. I found myself converting the US price to Swedish kronor to decide if it was a good price or not. Things in Stockholm were much more expensive than the US and we were used to paying at least 40% more for groceries. By comparison, the US prices are a steal but they seemed high. Am I imagining this?

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I am suffering from major jet-lag and insomnia. We were 6 hours ahead of EST in Stockholm and I haven't been able to sleep past 3 am the last two nights. It is also weird to get up at night and not be able to see my way to the bathroom. It was only pitch black in Stockholm for a couple of hours max in the summer, and since we lived in the city, there was a lit-up billboard that shown into our main room when it was dark.
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While we were gone, we had a young couple in their early 20's and newly married staying at our house rent free to keep a watch out for us. They had to take care of the house, pay the utilities and cut the grass in exchange. I met this couple through my DS10's private music teacher. Her house and lawn are immaculate and the young couple were living with her temporarily. We met the couple who seemed a bit odd but responsible. I always saw the young wife cooking dinner while I waited for my son's lesson to finish so I thought she must be fairly responsible. The wife was not working when they moved in and starting taking online classes in the late spring. She did not have a car and they had the tv service turned off. I felt sorry for her but thought "good for me, she has lots of time to clean my house". Before I left, I scrubbed every inch of my house. It was as clean as it had ever been when they moved in.

Fast-forward to the day we returned. I was shocked when I saw the lawn and felt like crying when I went into the house. The lawn had not been cut in 2-3 weeks. My sons and I cut the grass and then had to rake the clippings because it was so long. I was expecting to come home to weeds in all of our flower and mulch beds and to have to trim the shrubs, edge the driveway, and power wash the porch and deck but was hoping that they had done some weed-pulling. I did expect at least the lawn to be nicely cut since that is all we asked of them.

The house could have been worse. At least that is what I keep telling myself to keep from wanting to kill this couple. To be positive, the refrigerator and microwave were immaculate. Here's a list of the negative:
1) The house had not been dusted in weeks. My living room may never have been dusted.
2) The carpets hadn't been vacuumed "because the belt on the vacuum broke" (quote from a note they left). Okay, I get that. BUT, we have an old vacuum that does work that is stored right next to the new one. Plus, my next door neighbor has been driving our cars around and interacting with these two and she would have happily lent them a vacuum, and/or his mother, who lives 5 minutes from us would have also lent them a vacuum. I'm not buying it.
3) The towels from the bathroom and throw blankets from the family room were dirty and thrown in a heap in the laundry room.
4) The stove had a thick layer of spilled and burnt food all over the burner covers and had dripped down under the covers. It took me an hour to clean that mess.
5) The drain board had a layer of mold on it and dishes in it that I had to re-wash because they were not clean. The window above the sink was so slopped with food splatters, etc. that it was hard to see out of it.
6) The sinks and master bath had major soap scum films on them.
7) The bath mat and bathroom rugs were dirty.
8) My one houseplant had never once been watered and, obviously, was completely dead with no hope.
9) They left things scattered throughout the house. This was because of the unplanned and hurried way they left. My neighbor came over the day we arrived (the day after they told her they would be out of the house) to put some milk, eggs, and other food for us in our refrigerator. They were still there and had my family room filled with stuff they needed to move out. This was at 1:30 and we were arriving at 5:30.
10) There were crumbs all over my dining room table cloth
11) There were food crumbs and her hair in my freezer.

The kicker for me was that they left a note apologizing for the lawn ("I started a new job and didn't have time to cut it one last time") and the house ("we hope it is cleaned to your satisfaction and will come back if you want us to"). They've known for 7 months the exact date we were coming back so no excuse they could give (well, if there was a death in the family that required them to go out of town, maybe) that would excuse this. Also, he should have been cutting the grass at least once a week. If he did not have a chance to cut it one last time, I could have dealt with one-week's worth of grass growth. The scum, mold, and dust had accumulated over weeks/months.

After having been awake for almost 24 hours, I had to spend 4 hours cleaning the master bathroom and kitchen just so my family could start to unpack. I got up the next "night" and spent 3 more hours doing laundry and re-organizing my kitchen so I could find things. They literally just tossed pots, pans, and tupperware into the cabinets. The spice/baking cabinet also looked like somebody dumped everything out and just threw it back onto the shelves. She ruined two metal baking pans by leaving them soaking in water (there were rust stains in my kitchen sink)and a cookie sheet - I don't have any idea what she did to it but it is ruined. The coffee maker was also broken. I wouldn't have cared really if the house had been cleaned.

I have also cleaned the master bedroom and my kids' rooms but still need to vacuum most of the house and dust it as well. I also need to scrub the laundry room.

I have found an assortment of their stuff in an assortment of places. It is boxed up in cardboard boxes they left in my basement.

Despite having typed up detailed instructions and having even shown them how to do it, they did not clean the lint off the screen on the outside of the house where the dryer hose exhausts to the outside. I discovered this when I put the bath rugs and some towels into the dryer at 10:30 pm and, when I got up at 2:30 am because I couldn't sleep, the dryer had just finished drying them. The lint screen had 4 times as much lint on it as I have ever seen. They seriously were willing to wait 4 hours per load for laundry to dry? This put the bullet into the brain of my fading dryer. We had to go last night and buy a new one.

I know this couple is young (early 20's) and am trying to cut them a little slack. But, I feel they really knew better and should be told so. I sent them an email telling them I had two boxes of assorted stuff, and that I was disappointed at how dirty the house was and how sorry the lawn looked. I told them that, even though they offered in their note to come back, we thought it was best to do the cleaning ourselves. I wanted to really let them have it but I feel badly for my DS10's music teacher and did not want to cause any hard feelings there. She would be appalled to see the mess they left.

I dread seeing them when they come to claim their stuff. I don't want to hear any lame apologies and I don't want to be forced to either say nothing or say something too harsh.

I will be glad when we are all unpacked and I can finish the cleaning. The worst part is done.

Excited to Save money with my new job!

July 26th, 2011 at 02:34 pm

I have been reading and enjoying all of your blogs here for a long time and decided that I would enjoy sharing my financial worries, stresses, successes and excitements with all of you. Most people in my life just don't get where I am coming from when it comes to finances. This seems like the perfect place to get some honest feedback and have an outlet to keep from driving myself (and/or my husband!) crazy!

In a couple of weeks, I am starting a new, full-time job after having been a SAHM for the last 12 years. The thing I am most excited about is that I will be able to save more money. I have already worked out our new budget and have allocated most of my new salary to various savings goals (retirement, college, etc). According to all of the retirement calculators and financial health tests that we have taken, we were already well on our way to a good retirement although I have always felt like we were behind. It struck me as I finished the new budget that I was more excited about the additional money that I was going to be able to save for the future, than the extra money that we would have for "frills". I don't recall ever hearing anyone I know getting excited over saving money. I always hear the excitement over spending money.

New Salary Allocation:
Anticipated net take home pay = $2875
401 k contribution = $1300/month
College savings = $1000/month
New car fund = $500/month

We will have $500 more per month extra in our budget starting in September as we have moved our younger child from a private school to public school so that tuition money will be spread over several items in our budget (home improvement fund, vacation fund, family "frills").

It feels so exciting to be able to save, save, save!!