Monday, March 11, 2013

Living on a Budget

The King and I recently joined one of those warehouse shopping clubs where you can buy a box with 20 lbs of cereal or if you need some paper plates, you can grab a package with 800. In all seriousness though, joining one of these clubs can definitely save you money but it does take a little extra effort and a little extra planning too. This inspired me to write a blog about saving money.
When the King and I decided to run our Junk King franchise full time together, money became kind of tight - while we're on the subject - let's clarify the fact that most small business owners are not super wealthy (especially at the beginning!).

Anyways, I started to look for ways to save money that wouldn't radically change the way we were used to living. Here's a few ways that we've learned to conserve our money and get the most out of what we have:

1. TV/Movies - We have 2 little princesses and in a perfect world, they wouldn't watch any TV and in a semi-perfect world, they would be limited to watching 2 hrs a day (or whatever the recommendation is), but let's talk realistically here. The princesses watch TV (especially when I'm trying to make dinner or get something done!). The King and I also watch TV and have a few shows that we follow and enjoy watching. We dropped cable a couple years ago and never looked back.
Now we use Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime to watch our shows and movies. Sure, you have to wait a day and watch the show the next night but really, who cares? We still enjoy it and mostly commercial free (a plus for the kids shows - one of the princesses pointed out "Lysol" to me in the store this week - undoubtedly she saw a commercial for it, they really soak that stuff up!).
A side note: This works for us because we don't really watch sports - that's the only thing I haven't come up with a non-cable solution for - any sports lovers out there figure something out yet? Anyways, for under $20/month, we have a huge selection of movies and shows to watch and it's a major money saver!

2. Food - This is kind of a two-fold topic because for me it was about balancing eating healthy with not spending a lot of money. I found that I was going to the supermarket weekly not really knowing what I was going to cook each week and then just trying to grab what I thought we might need. In doing this, I ended up with a big grocery bill every week and a bunch of duplicate stuff because I just wasn't taking the time to plan.
The first thing I did was write out a list of all the meals my family enjoys so I could pick from it each week to decide what we'd be having for dinner. Then I started to look through my pantry and refrigerator to see what I had from previous shopping trips that I could use to make the meals on my list. What a difference it made!
As I mentioned above, shopping in bulk can really save you money, but you have to plan and you have to have self control. One of the things I buy in bulk is meat because I can freeze it and use as needed. Case in point - ground turkey:
 
Took these 2 packages of ground turkey
 

and turned it into turkey for 5 meals for our family

Last words: I know buying in bulk, freezing, and all that isn't anything new but it does take a little extra work. In the convenience world we live in, it's easy to do things a certain way even if it's more expensive but really, it took me 10 minutes to split that turkey up and I definitely saved money!
Til next time!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Queen Gets Down & Dirty Part II: Attic Cleanout

Remember the Queen's first day doing junk removal? I was such a rookie back then. I've graduated from simple small jobs to helping out on whole house cleanouts! (Yes, I just patted myself on the back) Our latest house cleanout job had an attic full of stuff, I'm not just talking lowercase "full", I'm talking "FULL". Here's some pictures to prove it:

 
 




Where do you start on a job like this? Well, basically you start at the staircase and work your way in. As we worked through the layers of stuff, we sorted things including books, toys, metal (for recycling), wood, etc. There was a lot of carrying things down stairs which means that you had to walk back up the stairs each time - the Queen likes a good workout anyways :) You never know what you'll find under the piles and although this job didn't yield anything overly interesting, we did find a couple neat things (blasts from the past):

Old Box of Crayola Crayons

Kodak camera c.1969

Army Guy Toys (no, they're not G.I. Joe) - The princesses are enjoying these! I know there's a Star Trek toy there too - the King would want to make sure I mentioned that!
This particular job was a house that was owned by the bank, it does spark a little sadness in you when you're sorting through all this stuff and think about the stories behind how the house got to the state that it's in. This cleanout (the attic plus the stuff from the rest of the house - another story for another time) was about 4.5 truckloads total. The attic itself was about 1.5 truckloads.

Last words (and pictures!): I'll end this blog with the "after" pictures so you can sigh a sigh of relief to see all the open space we made by getting rid of the clutter!


 



Hope you enjoyed the transformation! Til next time!

Friday, February 1, 2013

What's in That Bottle???

I missed posting last week - I was doing some junk removal with the King  :) (You know the Queen knows how to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk, right?)

This week I'm going to talk to you about household hazardous waste - it's a topic that in my opinion doesn't get enough attention.



Have you ever taken a look around your house and noticed all the bottles or cans of stuff you have? Whether it's under the kitchen sink, under the bathroom sink, in the bathroom closet, or the garage the typical household is full of bottles of various liquids. Believe it or not, a large percentage of those liquids can be considered hazardous waste when it comes time to get rid of it.
In addition to the liquids, there are other things in your home that can also be considered hazardous. Hazardous waste, as defined by the US EPA is "a waste with properties that make it dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment".

A brief list of "hazardous" items you might have:
- Fluorescent Lamps
- Drain Cleaners
- Oil Paint/Stain
- Motor Oil (that's an obvious one!)
- Antifreeze
- Pesticides/Herbicides
- Ballasts (these are typically found on light fixtures that use fluorescent lamps)
- E-Waste (VCRs (umm...how many people still have one of these?), DVD Players, computers, etc)

Here is a great article from Earth 911 that can help you determine what in your house is in fact considered household hazardous waste.

So, now that we've sorted out what the hazardous waste is, how do you get rid of it?
It seems the answer to that question all depends on where you live. Most towns and cities in Massachusetts hold an annual or bi-annual hazardous waste drop off day. Some municipalities actually have drop off centers available to them where you can go once or twice a month (the ideal set-up in my opinion because really how many people think to set aside all their hazardous waste stuff all year?).

The Massachusetts DEP website has some useful links if you're looking for more information or places to drop stuff off.
Here are a few links to the pages I found most helpful:
Hazardous Waste Collection Centers
List of Town Website Links

Last Words: For my parting words I'll say the following: Whatever you do, do NOT pour these liquids down the drain, it pollutes our groundwater and is bad for us and the environment. Let's do our best to keep these hazardous wastes out of our landfills and out of our trashcans!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Year's Purge Part III: Gift Wrap/Arts & Crafts

As the last installment in my New Year's purge series, I attacked our gift wrap supplies and the kid's arts & crafts supplies.
If you're anything like me and like to reuse things as much as possible, you probably save every gift bag you ever receive a gift in because you never know when you'll be able to use it again. After every birthday party, baby shower, Christmas, etc I would gather up all the gift bags and stuff them into a container in my attic. Of course when I had an event to go to and I wanted to use a gift bag, I never went up in the attic to find a bag because I didn't have time to search through and find the right one.
Similar to my other purges, the first step was to get everything I had in one place so I could assess what I had. Then I looked at every bag and decided if it was worthy of being used again (ie was it wrinkled too much, did it have stickers on it, etc) and immediately got rid of about 30 bags. Then I sorted them by occasion - birthday, Christmas, baby shower, wedding. Next, I took each pile and sorted it by size. In addition to the bags, I also gathered up all the bows, ribbon, gift boxes, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and name tags that I had and sorted through those as well. Once I was done sorting, I had to brainstorm on how I was going to store this stuff using the containers I already had since I didn't want to spend any money on this project. This is what I came up with:

The container at the top houses all the non-Christmas supplies. The other container has the Christmas stuff.

I used some pieces of cardboard to separate the different occasion bags.

My last purge project was the kid's arts & crafts supplies. I had 3 or 4 boxes with all different art stuff in it like paints, crayons, markers, colored pencils, coloring books... and the list goes on. Whenever the princess wanted to do something, it was a project in itself just getting the supplies out for her and when it came time to clean up it was even worse. As you can probably guess - the first step was gathering together everything we had, it looked a little something like this:

 
Turns out we had a TON of crayons (many of them broken), a lot of markers (a lot of which didn't work anymore), heaps of construction paper, and well you get the idea. My first step was to weed out all the stuff that was past it's prime (ie the broken crayons, the dried out markers, broken pencils, etc). Then I designated a container for each kind of item. Taking a hint from my friend Francesca Verri, I made kid friendly labels for each container - meaning I put the word on the label as well as a picture of what was inside. This will not only help us find stuff but also help in the clean up process because the kids will better understand where everything is supposed to go. At the end of the sorting, the container looked like this:



SO much better! Just so you know, it's already been kid tested and it works!

Question: I have to know - did I inspire anyone to purge??

Last words: I will probably do some more purging when the springtime rolls around, but for now I will enjoy my freshly organized spaces!

middlesex.junk-king.com

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year's Purge Part II: Personal Filing Cabinet

The Queen is back with more stories of purging and organizing for the New Year. As I said at the end of my last post, the next project I was going to tackle was our personal document filing cabinet. Before we get down to the actual organizing, let's talk about this for a minute. It wasn't until I had 2 kids and started running Junk King with the King, that I realized, running a household is sort of like running a business. You always have paperwork and things to keep track of and if you don't have some sort of system to handle that stuff as it comes in, you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly.
A couple months ago, I decided to gather up all the various paperwork that was scattered around my kitchen and when I put it into one big pile, the pile ended up about 1 foot tall! When I had that in front of me, I decided to put the pile aside and tackle it another day - which as you can probably guess - never happened!
Fast forward to this past weekend, it was finally time to tackle the project and get it done....so here we go:

1. The first step was to get all the papers in one place. Most of the stuff had been in our filing cabinet, so we took the drawers out to make it easier:

 
 
So it doesn't look like we have that many papers or even a problem organizing them - but the truth is, a lot of the stuff in these 2 drawers was so old and irrelevant to us now that I knew I could free up room to organize the stuff we actually needed to keep.

2. The next step was to take everything out and put it in piles, at the same time, we went through everything we took out and got rid of all the old stuff we no longer needed. A couple useful sites I used for advice on how long to keep certain documents from the IRS and this great chart from Good Housekeeping. All the stuff we got rid of that had sensitive information on it, got shredded (the princess gave us a hand - who knew it could be a family activity!):



One thing I do when I shred papers is put all the shredded pieces into paper bags and it goes right out with the recycling. I hate those plastic bags that come with shredding machines - the ease of them makes you want to throw it in the trash but really, you're shredding paper - recycle it!

3. The last step, was determining what we were keeping (by using the piles we made) and then making sure each thing had a folder in the drawer. At the end of this project, we filled up a one of those town recycling bins with paper as well as filled 4 paperbags with shredded paper - now that's a purge (I should've taken a picture of it, it was impressive)! What a relief - everything has a place now and we'll be able to find a document next time we're looking for one!!

Question: Do you have a home paperwork system that works for you? Please share!

Last words: Next week, as the last installment in the New Year's purge we will tackle gift wrapping supplies (come on, I know you're excited and I also know most of you probably have a bin full of stuff!).

http://middlesex.junk-king.com

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year Purge

Most people like to do a purge of items when they spring clean (it's the King and I's busiest season!), but for me I like to do it when the New Year starts. In my mind, the New Year is about new beginnings and a clean slate. Here's what I've done so far:

1. Kids clothes - If there are any moms of small children reading this blog, I'm sure you can relate. We have so many clothes for the princesses, it's crazy. Of course I kept all the clothes my older daughter wore so that my younger daughter could use them but at some point as I kept temporarily putting things out of commission as the older one grew out of them, I ended up with containers with about 5 different sizes all mixed together. As my younger daughter got bigger, I'd go searching for clothes in the containers and give up because I couldn't find the size I was looking for. So as part of the New Year purge, the first thing I did was gather up all the kids clothes that we had and here's what it looked like:

It was a big enough pile for the kids to jump into...
First, we sorted them by item - shorts, pants, shirts, etc., next we sorted by size. After that, I put aside all the stuff that wouldn't fit either of the girls so I could either donate or sell at a tag sale that the Chelmsford Mother's Club holds twice a year. Next I sorted the size piles by season (summer vs winter) and then put them in labeled containers. Now when the littlest princess is ready to move to the next size, I can go up in the attic, grab the right container and she'll be good to go...phew!

2. Christmas Stuff - I took some of the advice I posted in an earlier blog post, and in the process of taking down our Christmas tree, laid out all our Christmas stuff and decided what I was probably never going to use, what I had duplicates of, etc and got rid of a bunch of stuff. Then, similar to the kid's clothes I sorted what was left into containers and labeled them (very detailed!!). It'll be fun next Christmas to go up and get my decorations out and know exactly where everything is!!

So, I do have more organizing/purging I plan on doing but so far my donation/sell pile looks like this:


 
 
 
I think my next project will be all our personal office papers and filing cabinet - that's going to be a big project!
 
Question: What's your favorite thing to do for New Years? Do you like to make resolutions? Goals?
 
 Last words: Happy New Year everyone! Til next week!
 
middlesex.junk-king.com 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Tree Fun

Hello everyone! Since Christmas is right around the corner and everyone is gearing up for the big day (assuming you celebrate Christmas), I figured I'd do a fun blog post with some interesting facts about Christmas Trees as a last hurrah before the big day!

Every year, there's a classic debate amongst people: Real tree vs Fake tree. People on each side will argue why they choose to go either way when selecting a tree whether it be environmental reasons, money, convenience, or just plain personal preference.
When I was growing up, we always had a real tree and it was a tradition every year to go pick out a tree, usually at a local place that was selling pre-cut trees. A couple times, we ventured to a tree farm and cut down our own but either way we always had the smell of pine in our house, and even one year a bird's nest from our live tree. When the King and I started our own tradition, we went for a fake tree...(what I'm trying to say here is I've been on both sides of the debate!) although last year we bought our first real tree since we got married.
You tell me, which is the real tree in the pictures below?

Real or Fake???



Real or Fake???



Anyways, first, a brief lesson on the history of Christmas Trees: It really began with the Winter Solstice (aka the longest night of the year) which takes place on Dec 21 or 22. Ancient people believed that the Solstice was a turning point and that spring, with all it's life and greenery would be here soon so they decorated the inside of their homes with evergreen boughs. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas Tree tradition when Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Closer to home, the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1830s are credited with displaying the first Christmas Trees in the United States.  If you want to learn even more (and I know you do!!), check out this great article from History.com.

Now here's a couple facts about trees:
1. Typically, it takes 8 to 10 years of nurturing to grow a full size Christmas Tree - when I first read this, it really made me think about all the effort that goes into creating these trees that we enjoy looking at for only 3 or 4 weeks in our house.

2. You can buy a live tree in a pot for your house so you can plant it outdoors after Christmas is over, but beware that if you keep the tree inside for more than a week, it may come out of dormancy (trees don't really grow during the cold months) while in your house and when you go to plant it outside, it probably won't survive.

3. In many cities and towns, a tree drop off/pick-up is offered after Christmas - usually the trees are gathered, processed through a chipper and used for mulch (recycling!!!)

And to make sure I'm keeping it local:
4. The tree on the Boston Common is an annual gift from the people of Nova Scotia (since 1971) as a thanks to Boston for providing emergency aid when it's capital, Halifax was devastated by an explosion caused by a ship collision in Halifax Harbor in 1917.
5. The Boston Common tree for 2012 is 45 feet tall and has 6,000 LED lights. Isn't it pretty? Check out this cool slide show from Boston.com with photos of Christmas Trees on the Common over the last 40 years.

Boston Common Tree


6. Remember the lights in Lowell over the Wannalancit Mills that looked like a Christmas Tree? The lights were up for about 10 Holiday seasons until it became financially unfeasible in 2010. It'd be cool if they could somehow bring it back again. (update 12/26 - the tree is back - shows you how much I get out after dark!)
(photo from Boston.com) 


Ok, well I could go on and on about trees but I like to keep my blog posts as light reading and not an encyclopedia so I'll end it here.

Question: The obvious question for this blog post... what is your tree preference? Real or fake??

Last Words: I hope everyone out there has a wonderful holiday and a very Happy New Year. I'll be taking next week off but I will be back with more blogging after January 1st! Merry Christmas!!

http://middlesex.junk-king.com