How I’m Digging Myself Out of Debt (with Actual Numbers)!

credit card debt how to pay offI’ve talked on this blog before about how I made some really bad financial decisions, especially related to my wedding. I had no self control. If I saw something and liked it, I threw it on plastic, never once paying attention to my balance, interest rate or fees. Then one day as I was paying bills, I realized that even though I’ve been paying the minimum payment every month on my cards, the total balance was still going up on some. That’s when I looked at the terms of my credit cards and realized how bad my situation was. It was worse than I ever thought it would be, and it was out of complete carelessness. I realized that if I was ever going to afford a house or a child, I had to make big changes quick. I decided to get my act together, tackle my debt, make a budget a financial plan to try and right my wrongs and get back on track.

I’m going to be very honest and open with my financial situation here. I know a lot of people are scared to reveal actual numbers, and I am too, but for the sake of being open and maybe possibly helping someone else, I’ll let it all out. Numbers and all. It’s incredibly embarassing to admit for me, and please don’t judge. Here we go.

The Problem

I had a total of 11 credit cards. ELEVEN. At the height of it all, one month after my wedding, I carried around approximately $8,500 in total credit card debt. (Plus some more lost money in overdraft fees from my always-low checking account.) It was a lot for me.

It started out innocently enough. My senior year of high school I signed up for my first credit card at Express as a way of building some credit in the first place. I barely used it that first year at all. Then I got one at Victoria’s Secret in college because I worked there. I did pretty good with these two cards at first. But then it got out of control fast. I saw how easy it was to manage these two so I thought surely I could get some more and it’d be no biggie. I was lured into nearly all of them by sales associates talking me into the sign-up savings. How could I NOT save an extra 15% on those new pants at Macy’s?! There was no harm, right? Wrong. I said yes way too many times to that sales pitch at the register.

It only got worse. For a work trip at my former job, my checking account balance was super low and I knew I wouldn’t be able to even afford to buy meals for the week. At that job, we got reimbursed for expenses after the trip, so I had to find a way of funding my expenses upfront. Signed up for a new credit card before the trip and used it frequently. Got home and decided I wanted a new laptop so bought one with that same card. Then around wedding time, I was again lured into saving on our wedding bands, my dress, the groosmen’s tuxes AND our honeymoon flight by getting even more new cards. Oh yeah, and the entire time I was also eating out frequently, ordering delivery, getting fast food and shopping far too much. All on my cards.

The reality is, I saved nothing. I lost a lot. I never asked the credit card terms before signing up and got hit with loads of finance charges, high interest rates and who knows what else. Knowing that all that money could have gone toward my house savings infuriated me. I hated myself for being so irresponsible. But wallowing doesn’t fix anything so I had to get serious.

The Solution

First I called my mom and confessed the trouble I got myself in. She agreed to “allow” me to dip into the savings account she had set up for me as an emergency/house fund to start chipping away at the debt. But to figure out which card needed paying off the most, I had to make a list (yay lists!). My first step was to make a spreadsheet detailing all my cards, interest rate, total balance, available credit and any yearly fees or other terms worth keeping in mind. I took $800 out of my house fund to pay off one card entirely – Zales, which had the highest interest rate of them all (28.99%! *cringe*).

Then for awhile after, I just paid a little more than the minimum due on all my cards. It was something, but it wasn’t enough. Enter Amberly. I found her Money & Marriage series and was intrigued. She introduced me to Dave Ramsey, and that very day I instituted his debt snowball. Slowly I started getting those balances down but only was able to close a couple cards that had small balances to begin with. I did feel victories with each, but I was egaer to knock the big ones out.

…and then my tax return came. Hallelujah! I got the biggest return I ever have thanks to filing as married for the first time. Together, Cal and I got $2,850, and we decided to split it in half. I applied every cent of that return to my credit cards (and his all went to his own student loan debt, which is another story in itself). With that, I was able to pay off two more cards entirely and half the balance of the card with the biggest total balance and next highest interest rate. This was the biggest win I have felt yet, and it feels so good.

I now only have four cards with balances, and with the money I’m saving from no more payments on those other cards, I can chip away at these four much more quickly. I also put a freeze on my remaining cards. I only actually carry one card with me to use in absolute emergency (which I did have to once when my car died on the side of the road and I simply didn’t have enough money in my checking at the time to cover the repairs). Otherwise, if I don’t have enough money in my checking or it’s not budgeted for, I don’t buy it. With continued hard work, I think and hope I can knock these last four out by the end of this year.

I also took some other small steps to cut back on spending itself. I started meal planning, which is saving me so much on eating out, buying groceries and wasting food. I coupon more. I took freelance jobs to have more money coming in. And in general, I try to live on less. That sometimes translates to saying no to fun things you otherwise would have said yes to. I declined concerts with friends, eating out, going for drinks and traveling to places that would require spending too much. And now when I do go out, you can bet it’s with a coupon or to catch a happy hour special. To go along with the new me, I wanted to do a good big clean up at our apartment, and I purged tons of items and donated them. Less stuff = less clutter = less stress = less spending.

I also knew it was important to get my savings account built up again, so I changed my direct deposit at work to send $20 every month straight into it, and I have vowed to not touch it again, pending disaster, emergency or when we’re ready to use it to buy a house. It’s not a big contribution, but it’s better than nothing. I should also note that I compared just about every bank in my town and picked out the one savings account at the one credit union that would yield the most interest earned and lowest (read: no) fees. Seeing that savings number very slowly go up again gives me even more confidence. Little steps lead to big changes, I’m telling you.

Not gonna lie. Getting your finances back on track is TOUGH. I’ve slipped a few times, but I try to make up for it and am far more aware of it now. Getting closer to my end goal of being debt free with a nice savings and owning a home is so worth it.

I’ve seen a lot improvement already. Freeing up paying so many cards has given me more money to work with paying off the ones that are left. In turn, my credit score is going back up and my credit utilizaton rate (or total balance versus available credit) is pretty darn good too.

I should note as well that I’m purposely keeping all my paid off cards open a little longer. I’m saying no to temptation to use them by stashing them in my nightstand and never carrying them with me. But to keep that credit utilization low, I need that total credit to be high as my balances get lower. This gives me a better overall credit score and will work in my favor when we do apply for a home loan. As soon as we’re to that point and the loan has gone though, I plan to close at least half of my cards.

What I’ve also learned is that now that I’ve changed my bad behaviors, there are benefits to keeping just a few cards. I plan to keep Victoria’s Secret and Express simply for the discounts and rewards from each store, but will always pay off all balances immediately. These two cards were never a problem for me in the first place, so it makes sense to keep them. I’m also keeping Tires Plus because the card has good terms and is peace of mind in case one of our cars needs a repair more costly than we can afford in our checking. I’ll be keeping my Wells Fargo visa as the general emergency card because it has the lowest interest rate of them all (9%! what what!). I’m on the fence about keeping my Target card though. I like that I get 5% off using it, but it’s been the card that I’ve got in the most trouble with, and the interest rate and fees are higher than I’d like. I may keep it for awhile and see if I can keep self control having it but stick to paying it off right away.

This all being said, my last point is that just because I’m on a budget and am trying hard to pay off debt, doesn’t mean I allow myself no fun. You have to make some exceptions now and then, or else you become so upset with all work and no play that you self sabotage. Like I mentioned, I still go out occasionally, but when I do, it’s with coupons or for happy hour deals, or I try to find free things to do with friends instead. I say yes to far fewer concerts than I once did, but I make exceptions for events that I absolutely love. An Alice in Wonderland ballet will be happening here in April and I splurged on tickets to see that because I know I will love it.

I also prioritized my other expenses outside of credit cards to find other places to cut back. I rate shopped for car insurance to make sure I was getting the best deal for the best coverage (and I am. Progressive FTW!). I’m going to cut out the DVD plan on our Netflix and only have streaming. We got rid of our garage at our apartment to save $30 a month on renting that. I only pay for one fecal test at the vet now (instead of two because if one has worms the other will too! durr.). One thing that’s super important to me though is TV. I pay a lot for DirecTV every month, but it’s an expense I find worth it. I LOVE my TV, and while I could live without it or with a cheaper plan, right now it’s simply not something I’m willing to give up. #Sorrynotsorry.

Tips for You: My Takeaway

-Check out Dave Ramsey’s resources. His “seven baby steps to financial peace” helped inspire me a lot and start my financial plan, including the debt snowball.

-Comparison shop for banks and make sure you’re at the instituation where you can get the highest interest and lowest fees. Also shop for new car insurance, TV or Internet service, etc., to make sure you’re getting the best deal you can.

-Make a list and evaluate all of your monthly expenses and see where you can cut back. Try using to track everything and help you budget.

-Find ways to earn extra income and put that toward either savings or paying off your debts. Take on freelance work, find a side job, sell some clothes, offer to clean your friends’ houses, babysit or mow lawns for a small fee, or if you’re crafty, set up a shop on Etsy. I firmly believe there’s always something you can do to make some money; you just might need to get creative.

-Make other lifestyle changes for an even bigger impact, including couponing, watching sales and specials, budgeting, meal planning, savings contributions, even the envelope system if you think that’s right for you.

-Give yourself goals and challenges to make sure you stay on track and build in accountability. I also like giving yourself rewards when you do well and discipline when I mess up.

-Don’t get too rigid or strict about it. Allow yourself to still have some fun!

Do you struggle with debt too? What tips do you have?


The Value of Friends

This past weekend, a good friend of mine came to visit. Amy and I met in college freshman year when we had a few of the same classes together. After two years in the dorms, we moved into a real apartment together and she was my first real world roommate. We get along grand. Since she moved away, I only get to see her a few times a year, and when we do get time together, it’s really nice. We’re both low-key people and prefer to stay in and hang out and drink wine and just catch up on each other’s lives. This time, though, I wanted to go try out a new restaurant in town that’s all the rage, a German-themed pub called the Wurst Bier Hall (clever, right?!). The drinks were pretty good (this beer wussie loved the pear cider), but I thought the food was a little overrated, but who cares. It was the company that was best.

with my friend at wurst bier hall

I’ve never been one to make friends easily. I’m incredibly shy, and opening up to new people is really hard. Many people would label me as a snob because of it, which can be hard when someone doesn’t give you a chance and judges based on an assumption. But over the years, I’ve learned to let that go. If you don’t want to get to know me, fine. You’re not worth my time then. I’d rather focus on the small handful of people who have gone beyond the surface and made that effort to get to know me.

I’ve never understood how some people can just talk to anyone they meet like they’re old friends. The funny thing is that nearly all of my friends are like that though! They are mostly exactly the opposite of me. They’re friendly, talkative and outgoing. They can easily swap life stories with the checkout lady. At social gatherings, they’re the ones telling jokes and hamming it up while I sit awkwardly in the corner observing. And that’s how I like it.

Give me a chance though, peel back some of the Amanda layers, and I will start to open up … and eventually never shut up. In those small setting with my closest friends, I feel so comfortable. That’s the real me that comes out. Few people get to really see it, and I guess in a way, I treat my friendships as gifts that I don’t just give to anyone. You have to earn me!

Life’s sort of this funny journey where along the way you pick up people who stick around. Some others come and go, and that’s OK. But those few that stick are really special.

I met my best friend Amanda when I was probably less than a year old in the church nursery. Well, technically, our moms met because of the nursery and they became friends, so naturally, we grew up together and stayed friends too. For 28 years, almost my entire life, she’s been in it, and that makes it so special. We have tons of memories and experiences together, and we saw each other through every single awkward and awesome moment.

The Amandas on our first day of school

The Amandas on our first day of school

Years later she was my matron of honor

Years later she was my matron of honor

Even though Amy and Amanda are some of my very best friends, for some reason, since they both live far away from me, we tend to not keep up while we’re apart. Maybe it’s because we’re busy, maybe we’re lazy, maybe there’s no good reason and that’s just how things are. The thing is, the second we’re together again, it’s just like old times and it goes right back to where we left off. We have Facebook to keep us updated on some of the daily life events, but we’re always there for the big events now. Maybe that’s strange, but it works for me.

I then met Meredith at what I consider to be my first “real” job. At our local Fargo newspaper, I got hired to write obits and do some of the other odd newsroom jobs, and she trained me in on that job as she was moving on to copy editor there. We found out pretty quickly that we had lots in common, and it all snowballed. I don’t think there’s been barely a week we’ve gone without hanging out since then.

with mer

She pushes me to do cool, fun things. We’ve gone on many road trips to concerts and even back to Indiana, and we love going out to the movies or for margaritas. It’s pretty crazy stuff, I know, but otherwise I’d be sitting at home, so I appreciate this. She’s the one I’m constantly emailing back and forth with, often while also texting and IMing, and talking to for endless hours about who knows what. She now is engaged, and it’s so fun to help her plan her wedding since she was such a rock to me when I planned mine.

These days, I count my mother as a friend too. You know, once you get past those angsty teenage years, you start to see how cool your mom is and actually want to be around her more! And now that she lives 800 miles away, I miss her so much. Like my girlfriends, when we get together now, we giggle uncontrollably, and then she looks over my paperwork to tell me which 401k plan I should choose. I spend hours on the phone with her every week, and no one is more excited about hearing about my life than she is. That’s what moms are for though, right?

But my best friend above all now is my husband. He may not know about all those embarrassing things about me from when I was 14 (thankfully), but he has become my confidant now. He knows everything I worry about, everything I love, everything I want. He knows what I do when I get home from work and he knows what makes me tick. And that’s how it should be, I think. The relationship with your husband has to go deep. You have to love being with that person every single moment and tell them every single thing. To be close, to stay connected, to have a solid marriage, I think they have to be your best friend.

That being said, even the husband will never really fill the gaps of your girlfriends. They can’t dish on how cray cray the last episode of The Bachelor was, they can’t understand how much you friggin’ love cupcakes, they can’t tell you that new skirt is adorable and try on 20 of them with you at the mall, they can’t spend hours at a jewelry party and love every second of it, they can’t giggle uncontrollably with you about the cute guy over there, they can’t debate Ryan Gosling versus Ryan Reynolds, and they certainly can’t understand what’s going on with you that time of the month.

All of these people in our lives round us out, and we need all of them to be our best. We’re not really complete without them. Sure, it’s great to be a powerful, independent women, but it’s also great having people you can’t live without.  I’m sure I’ll feel the same if and when I have children, too. It will be one of those blanks I don’t really know I have now, but is added on my journey through life that becomes something I couldn’t have expected would mean so much.

What do friends mean to you?

Conquering the Clutter: Our Apartment Overhaul

Maybe it’s New Year’s resolutions, maybe it’s a new epidemic, maybe it’s pure luck, but I’m well aware of how many blogs very recently have posted about deep cleaning, organizing and decluttering. Well, add me to the list because I am all about it right now. This is not at all Pinterest perfect, but it’s real, and it worked for me. (Please forgive me for the awful photography. I will never claim to be good at taking good photos in good lighting, nor am I any good with editing them.)

My husband groaned when I told him we had an agenda full of cleaning, organizing and decluttering for the weekend. But as soon as we started, we got in a groove and both loved the results. Cleaning can be very therapeutic for me. It makes me feel good. I love the feeling of knowing that I worked to make something look better than it was before. Plus being in a nice, clean environment just makes you feel good, ya know?

What really gets us is clutter here and there. It’s easy to start thinking we need so much stuff, but really, we don’t. I cringe and feel anxious when I see piles of clutter in my house. I try to pick up a few things every day, but it’s SO HARD to keep up! It feels like as soon as you clean one area, you turn around and there’s another problem area. But that wasn’t going to stop us from tackling it all anyway, with the promise to try and keep the areas clean. I thought, if we can devote one entire weekend to nothing but cleaning, surely, we can get it all, right? Well, mostly anyway.



Finding the Inspiration and Tips & Tricks

I was most inspired by my friend Lindsay’s blog post about living a more minimalist lifestyle. Ever since she wrote it months ago, it’s been in the back of my mind, and I put an item purge on my mental to-do list. I started becoming more aware of all the stuff I had and started feeling guilty and upset with myself that I’ve become such a hoarder and a messy jessy. Lindsay’s argument made so much sense to me. The less stuff you own, the less stuff you have to clean or keep organized, and even more compelling, the more time you have to spend on things that truly matter.

Since then, some more blogs have caught my attention on this same subject, and it seemed like the stars were aligning to give me the kick in the pants I needed to once and for all, conquer my clutter. Wifessionals gave me more inspiration by realizing the less stuff I have, the less stuff we have to pack up and move with us when we get a house. Then, Kate’s post at The Florkens gave me the idea to actually try on the old stuff I have. So glad I did, because a lot of the clothing I had that wasn’t in current frequent rotation was so easy to give up. I definitely encourage trying all items on, because just from glancing at stuff on a hanger doesn’t do the trick. By taking them out and putting on, you see the things that have stains or got stretched out, realize the pants that you can’t even zip anymore, and question your fashion choices from years ago. Then, my Cara Box partner Kathryn posted this, also about clearing the clutter. Lastly, I found this awesome guest post about how to hausfrau here. Yes, it was definitely my turn to clean all the things.

One quote I came across in searching for ideas and inspiration online said: “Cut down your closet by 25% by asking yourself, ‘If I were shopping right this second, would I buy this?’ If the answer’s no, out it goes.” That helped me a lot when it came to every area of the house … and not just the closet.

Another trick I figured out that has worked really well for me in the past is that for any item I’m hesitant if I’m ready to part with, I put it in a bag and hide it away for awhile. Then in a few months, I’ll open up the bag. Most of the time, I don’t even remember what’s in it, and that’s the sign I won’t ever miss it and it’s time to say goodbye. If I’m still in doubt though, store it for another few months and do it again. If after the second round, I didn’t miss it but am still hesitant, I suck it up and donate or toss it anyway. If I don’t draw the line somewhere, I’d keep things around forever that I never use or wear, “just in case.”

I have a habit of keeping around things I bought for a special occasion just in case the same occasion comes around again. Think themed parties. Ugly Christmas sweaters, ’80s parties, etc. 75% of the time, I never use it again. So just toss it now. If another ’80s party happens, it will probably be years down the road and my current items may not even fit then, so I’ll buy something on sale in the future to use, or just improvise and go with colorful accessories, high ponies and full-on makeup so I don’t have to spend again. In the meantime, there’s no use in it keeping around.

We’ve cleaned up our spare bedroom about four times in the past year. But it seems like as soon as we get it looking nice, all of a sudden it looks like an episode from Hoarders. What was key for us this time was not just rearranging the items, but getting rid of what was there in the first place. I had several stacks of old magazines, about three comforters and even more blankets piled in the corner, tons of empty cardboard boxes that I keep “in case we need them for moving,” several kitchen appliances that are too large to fit in the kitchen cabinets, a big ol’ stack of leftover wedding things, and who knows what else landed in there over the past few months.

Getting Started

Before we actually started the big clean, I went to the dollar store and purchased tons of different sized bins – some very small to use to store my chapsticks in the nightstand, and some larger to store the pet toys, collection of TV remotes, etc. I purchased far more than what I had actual plans for because I knew I’d end up finding a purpose for them all eventually, and can you ever really have too many bins to put stuff in? Any container you can use to store items that otherwise would be scattered somewhere is worth it.

cubeicalI also caved and finally bought a Cubeical organizer at Target because I was so sick of odds and ends on the floor in the living room. Getting them up into little storage spaces makes a world of difference. Word of advice though: Check the storage bin sizes before you buy. I accidentally came home with the teeny weeny bins when I meant to get the large bins that would actually fill each cube. Oh well, live and learn.

Getting Down to It

I decided to start a little while ago actually, and tackled some of the small areas after work on a few nights while the husband was at band practice. That’s when I was able to go through my bookcase to gather up old books I had already read and don’t plan to read again, and some I never read and know I never would, to do a swap with friends and donate what was left. I also went through the kitchen cabinets and tossed expired spices and rearranged all our food so we didn’t have to take 10 items out just to find the baking soda. We also had a knack of collecting lots of loose packets of ranch mix, sauce and dip mixes, etc., that were scattered all over the cabinet, so I repurposed a nice box of hot cocoa packets to put all the packets in. Also, I highly recommend those spinny things to keep cans and spices in.

cabinets before and after

I emptied the random drawer with medicine and band-aids, etc., and moved the contents into the bathroom closet for an actual organized space for our medicine and first aid supplies. While I was in there, it seemed as good a time as any to tidy up that closet too.

bathroom closet before and after

I organized my nightstand drawer from a cluttered mess into something actually functional again. And don’t ask me why I keep the tape in my nightstand – I really don’t know why.

nightstand before and after

I rearranged the fridge door and moved the card photos elsewhere to reduce visual clutter there, and threw out any old magnets that we got for free with logos of businesses we don’t even care about.

fridge before and after

I took the stash of pet toys that was cluttered in the corner and put them in a basket. At least the ones the animals don’t use on a daily basis. There’s still a few little kitty balls scattered around and the one bone that Brick actually chews on, and that’s enough.

pet toys

Once the smaller tasks were done, we waited till we had a weekend with zero other plans to really tackle the big spots. So pretty much my entire Saturday was spent in my closet and dressers (yes, plural because I’m a hoarder). I channeled the Florkens and tried on everything. I got pretty depressed for awhile because about HALF of the pants, shorts and skirts I used to fit in a year ago or so I could no longer zip, or if I could, it was skin tight and barely fit over my thighs. I even had to walk out in the living room to show my husband my muffin top and love handles in several garments. Then I sucked it up and continued on because what use is there in being sad about gaining some more junk in the trunk. It happens. I cleared out about five bags just of clothes to either throw away or donate.

Then I had to go through all the crap that was piled on the closet floor and on the shelf. Boy was that a mess. I hadn’t gone through that since we moved in. Yikes. I had about five purses I no longer use or even like, so many free totes I got here and there that I literally never once used, a pile of stuffed animals, ski boots that I no longer use because I don’t ski anymore, tons of belts that are very much out of style, and lots of other odds and ends. It was bad. But, I powered through and said goodbye to so much stuff.

I think the key to cleaning out a closet is to definitely take all the items out first, go through them on the bed or floor, weed out stuff you don’t want anymore, then dust/vacuum/sweep the now empty closet, then put the to-keep items back inside in an organized fashion, using those totes and baskets to hold the things like belts, scarves, etc. Also a shoe organizer is an absolute must. I know old cardboard boxes aren’t super eye appealing, but I was out of big totes, and they still worked as containers for my large items like stuffed animals (only kept my faves!) and purses. Works for me.

bedroom closet before and after

clean bedroom closet other door

Sadly, cleaning up my closet and dresser sucked up all of Saturday. Granted we did take one small break to go out to eat at a new restaurant in town. I was in no mood to cook after all that cleaning.

Sunday was the day we rallied together to hit the rest of the apartment hard. And we did! Cal handled the spare bedroom slash mancave all by himself, so I unfortunately don’t have photos of that, as I was not allowed to disturb his work … and also I was preoccupied elsewhere. That place was by far the worst, and it took him over half of the day. But finally, we can see the carpet again, the futon is a functional guest bed again, and my pile o’ wedding stuff got weeded out into one small tub and is tucked away in the closet.

I attacked the entry closet, which had become the place where we threw all our board games (and we had A LOT), coats and hoodies, cat carrier, old sewing machine, big cooler and the shoes we wear most often. I weeded out about half of the hoodies that I don’t wear anymore to free up more space and about 10 board games and puzzles we don’t play anymore. We were using the space in there really poorly, so I got a basket to put our gloves and mittens so they weren’t floppping around the shelf, and stacked the cooler and cat carrier on top of eachother on the shelf, freeing up lots of room there too. I organized our shoes to make much more sense and cleared out all the dust bunnies (there were a ton. Ick!). Sadly, I was too in the zone to remember to take photos of this space, so use your imagination.

We ended up having too much space in that closet, so we repurposed some old shelves we had laying around and put them in there to store our kitchen items that otherwise were stacked on top of the cabinets. It was such an eyesore, and I hated the kitchen because of it. Seeing pots and pans, blenders and griddles just strewn across the top up there was awful. Finally we had the perfect spot to put them that was out of sight. And now our cabinets are tidier, which makes me so happy. We left a few mugs up there as decoration, and just the couple pots and one griddle we use on a regular basis for easier access. There’s now so much space up there that Little Girl is having a heydey running around, whereas before she stumbled around and straddled the stuff. Ugh, right?!

I didn’t take a before picture, but imagine every inch of these cabinets covered in stuff. Just add a blender, popcorn popper, deep fryer, crockpot, baking dishes, and about 5 more pots and pans and you’ve got it.

clean kitchen cabinets

I feel like we did more, and we probably did a few other small things, but those big areas take a lot of time, especially when you have to combine purging, cleaning and organizing all in one. And multiple trips outside to the dumpster, finding time to eat lunch, feed the animals, take the dog out to potty, go potty yourself. Wow does it all add up, and all of a sudden you can’t believe all you did was get through one closet and it’s been four hours.

In the end when all was done, we both looked at the giant pile of items to be thrown away or donated, and said ‘Wow, we had this much stuff?!” While I’m ashamed we had collected so much stuff we didn’t use, I feel good that someone else will get the chance to use it now, and it’s fewer things taking up space in our place.

donation pile

Once the heavy lifting was done and everything was back in its place, I went did some general cleaning to put the cherry on top. I went around with my Swiffer duster and dusted any areas that weren’t involved in the clean up (small shelves holding picture frames on the wall and such), swept and Swiffered the floors, vaccumed and wiped down all counters. Last, I followed the recommendation of a pin I saw about the 15 surfaces you should be cleaning that you’re not, and went around and sanitized our light switches, door and drawer handles, sink handles, TV remotes, alarm clocks (yes we’re old school and have actual alarm clocks instead of using our phones) and any other surface that we frequently touch.

Cleaning Virtual Clutter

Sidenote: Sometimes a technology cleanup is in order too. I already decluttered my Pinterest, and cleaned up my email, which was ridiculous at over 1,000 unread emails. It’s now a nice 0. In my effort to keep it that way, I unsubscribed from many email subscriptions from stores or restuarants that I don’t really care about, because all it does is add virtual clutter.

dvrOur DVR has been near capacity for months. Like, hovering around 10-30% free. When it got down to 7%, we knew we had a problem. So we deleted a few movies and groups of shows that had been on there a long time since we knew we weren’t actually going to watch them, and during any free time worked hard at getting through what was left. After a couple weekends of hardcore DVR catch-up, we actually got it 100% cleared out. I had to take a photo because it’s never been like that since the day we got it in 2006.

Anyway, back to the weekend cleanup. By the end of the day on Sunday, I was absolutely beat. I flopped on the couch and didn’t move until bedtime. Cal had to make dinner that night because there was no way I was moving. Thankfully he was nice about it, even though he worked as hard as I did. What a guy. Side note: He’s also a great cook. Having a juicy pork roast and cheesy potatoes to top off our weekend was amazing. I know — a guy who cooks AND cleans with little to no grumbling?! AND still let me pick out the TV show to watch while we ate?! He’s all mine, ladies:)

Again, none of these photos are Pintastic and perfect, but to me, our problem areas are far better than they were, and I feel that it was all worth it. It feels so good to finally have a home again that I am actually proud of. I don’t know why it took me so long to do all of it. I think I should make this an annual event to stay on top of everything.

What are some of your tips for decluttering, reorganizing, purging or cleaning?

Things I Love About My Husband’s Family

I love that the annual Hofland family gathering takes place at Pizza Ranch. I love the Ranch.

I love that his aunts fight about which is the favorite.

I love that his cousins are amazing women that I really like! On both his mom’s side AND his dad’s side.

I love that his dad is an amazing cook. Seriously, he makes the BEST fried chicken and biscuits and gravy you’ll ever eat.

I love that his dad one time sucked the mustard he spilled out of his shirt with no shame.

I love that his uncle got to be the pastor at our wedding, and in the process, got to know me AND Cal better.

I love that I got to meet his grandfather at his 100th birthday party and he was the cutest, smiliest old man who couldn’t hear a thing. Also, Cal says I cough just like Grandpa Mel.

I love that his mom is a master baker and also makes the best tater tot hot dish I’ve ever had (which hasn’t been much actually; it’s such a Minnesota thing).

I love that his sister treats me like her sister. Also that she owns the cutest and silliest pittie ever. Second only to my own.

I love that his nephew is the cutest kid ever and is obsessed with Star Wars.

I love that his sister-in-law and nieces love to read.

I love how obsessed they are with the Vikings. I didn’t come from a sports-loving family, so this is new to me. In the family Christmas photo one year, they all wore their Vikings jerseys and forced me to wear one too.

I love that they all accepted me.

October Reflections

Well, I’m many weeks late on this, but October was a really lovely month for me. Actually, 2013 has been a great year, but I’ll share more on that near the end of it:)

In October, it was my birthday, yay! I had friends over for board games and snacks. Low key and fun, just how I like it.

I went to two concerts (and for free – perks of my job!). At both, I was far more into one opener than the main act, but it’s still fun to see live shows no matter what. Miss May I and Black Veil Brides were the highlights for me. Love those bands, and they are so good in person! I had seen each before at Warped Tour, but this time they were in my town and had longer sets.

BVB rocking it. Pardon the poor photography.

BVB rocking it. Pardon the poor photography.

I went to my first-ever professional sports game. It was my wedding gift to my husband – two tickets to see his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, and his sister and brother and their spouses joined us. I’m not much for football, but enjoyed the whole experience anyway. We played the Carolina Panthers, and lost. Like, really badly. Truth be told, the biggest reason I selected that game to go to was because the other team’s mascot was a kitty. That was for real my logic.

Go Vikings!

Go Vikings!

Afterward, we had dinner in the funniest little restaurant called the Friendly Buffalo. Gotta love small-town, local joints. It was amazing food. I had a french dip with chips, and they even make their own french onion dip.

The Friendly Buffalo was a win after the Vikings loss.

The Friendly Buffalo was a win after the Vikings loss.

I had a book club meeting with my gal pals and we discussed what was probably my favorite book we’ve read so far, “Gone Girl.” Talk about a page turner! I couldn’t put that thing down!

I went to a meetup of content professionals in the area to discuss video strategies for businesses, and it was so incredibly interesting and helpful. I took so many notes.

I went to a friend’s Halloween/birthday party where the theme was celebrities and red carpet. Most everyone else went as cool young celebs like Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and the birthday girl as Adelle, but my husband and I went as oldie but goodies Betty White (though I really think it turned out more Barbara Bush) and Mister Rogers. It was so fun.

Betty White and Mister Rogers - our Halloween costumes.

Betty White and Mister Rogers – our Halloween costumes.

I tried a brand-new restaurant in town that everyone’s buzzing about. It had a cool, hipster decor, and the food was really good. I had the cutest mini margarita, my friend and I shared fried chicken skins (sounds weird, but it was incredible), and had tacos. Mine were far too spicy for my tastebuds to handle, so the husband got to enjoy my leftovers.

Trendy tacos

Trendy tacos

We met with a financial advisor as the final step in our first-time homebuyer education program. It gets us one step closer to buying our first home, and we have some good ideas from him to tackle reducing our debt, raising credit scores, getting a loan and picking a home.

And now that Thanksgiving is near, I am so excited. It’s our first big holiday together as a married couple. I’ve already started planning the menu, and will be cooking for some of our friends. Plus our Christmas photo cards are in, and it’s taking every ounce of effort I have to not send them out now! Wheeee!!


I’m so excited for my very first blog post! It only seemed fitting that my first post should be about this whole blog thing and what brought me to start one.

First of all, I’m a newlywed. I was married in June 2013 (see more about my wedding here), and throughout my engagement and now about 5 months of being married, one day it just suddenly hit me that I’ve leaned a lot throughout this whole process. I think I’ve grown more in the past year than I ever have … so far anyway.

If I could go back in time, I would do several things very differently. I made some mistakes along the way, but I took so much away from it all. I could probably write an entire book about the wedding planning process with many, many lists and tips. So, throughout this blog, I will share some of the lessons I’ve learned. Some are big, like stick to the budget and communicate better; some are small, like allow extra time for photographs of just you as a couple, and do not use a cinnamon Wisp toothbrush right before you walk down the aisle, because it WILL turn your mouth an awful shade of red.

But, we made it, and in the end, I’m incredibly happy that I married the man I love. That was the most important thing. But now that I’m a few months into being married, oh boy, the learning just keeps coming.

The first thing to note is that my husband and I dated for 8 years before we were married. Eight! And while I thought that was a long time, and I thought that I knew everything about him and about us, turns out I didn’t. I thought right off the bat I’d be an awesome wife. I also thought while some things may change, for the most part, everything would feel completely the same as before. Wrong again.

Now, as husband and wife, we have to communicate better and more, and suddenly everything is so important! We’re not just dating anymore; we’re locked into this thing for life! And I want to do it all right, but part of that is accepting that at times, I’ll screw up, and so will he, but along the way, we will learn a ton, pick ourselves up and keep on keepin’ on.

So this is the crazy journey of my new life as a wife. Enjoy!