January Money Diet Day #21 – Less is the New More



Many of you know that I’m a full-time, self employed writer. One of my favorite side jobs is writing articles for home design magazines. Studying the beautiful rooms created by talented designers always inspires me.

Let’s look at the lovely living room vignette above, designed by Jennifer Hoey Interior Design. I fell in love with Jennifer’s work in 2012, when I wrote about her for Western Art & Architecture magazine.

We see that the room above does not include a lot of stuff. There are no Tuscany-themed throw rugs or gyro snack bowls or Brookstone TV remote pillows. Jennifer moved the furniture away from the walls in this beautiful, serene space, and kept the emphasis on just a few well-chosen pieces.

Most of the top designers I talk to invest in clean-lined, classic furniture of good quality and scale appropriate for the size of the room. They accessorize sparingly.

Are we ready?

In ten short days we’ll be reaching the official end of the January Money Diet, and we’ll be re-entering the world of shopping malls and impulse buys.

Much like addicts in rehab, we need to start preparing now for how we will deal with the inevitable temptations.

Many of you expressed joy after undertaking Monday’s challenge to clear stuff out and give it away. Let’s join our hands and pledge to honor those happy feelings and not crowd our homes with More. Doesn’t it feel good to have Less?

When I am at Target and I’m tempted to buy, say, a Tuscany-themed throw rug, I need only to remember the serene, simple rooms I love. Our home is a happier place with more space — and less stuff.

How about you?

What is the one area in your home that you’d like to edit and clear, so it’s a place of order and calm? (For me, it’s the basement. No, it’s actually the garage. No, wait — it’s my office closet.)

Your challenge is to take one step toward that vision of Less, and organize one space — one drawer, or one shelf, or one square foot — in that too-full place. Take one step, and tell us about it in the Comments section.


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P.S. WELCOME to those of you just joining the January Money Diet, and feel free to jump right in with today’s challenge! You can also visit the main blog page and scroll down to read the previous posts.

P.P.S. I was so inspired by all of your comments from Monday’s post about taking unwanted items to a charity, I’m loading up another batch today! If you donate more this week, be sure to post a comment so it counts in the contest. The person who gives away the most stuff by midnight this Saturday will win an inspirational money book.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Filling the Gaps

Remove window trim

Hmmm. . . I wonder what’s behind here?


Dear friends,

Last week I wrote about radical ways to save energy, and I finally had time to tackle a little project here.

For a long time I’d been curious about why the window in our guest room felt so cold and drafty, despite the fact that I’d had a new window installed several years ago. I decided to pull the trim off from underneath the window and have a look.

Here’s what I discovered:

A drafty gap in the window frame

Yes, my friends, that is open sky and sunlight that you’re glimpsing through our guest room wall. We might well ask ourselves — did the installer use a dull bread knife to cut the hole?

I happened to have a can of insulating foam on hand, and it was a simple (and quite satisfying) task to fill the gap:

Insulating foam to fill a window gap

I replaced the trim and felt an immediate difference. The window felt snug, and the draft was gone.

My daughter slept in the room this week and remarked on its comfort, and how it was no longer chilly at night. I wonder how much expensive, heated air has slipped through the hole, and how much hot air has freely flown in during the summer. (Do you think this is why our guests never stayed more than a night or two?)

But the gap is closed, and that is one small step in the right direction.

Hang In There

I know that sometimes it can feel like our efforts aren’t very fruitful, and that we have so many literal and figurative gaps to fill on the journey to financial freedom. But collectively, the things we do will start to make a difference. I promise.

Putting our finances in order is much like decluttering the house. We might devote 15 minutes a day to reducing clutter, combined with self discipline not to bring more stuff in the house. In the beginning, the task seems insurmountable and the piles never seem to decrease. But with time and dedication, it does get better.

One day we look around and notice an improvement. We have more room, and with less stuff we can really appreciate the things we have. It becomes easier to keep the clutter out because we’ve developed good habits, and our home becomes a place of calm, not a source of stress.

Small Steps Add Up

The same is true with money. We might decide to save more, and resolve to have the self discipline to stop frittering money away on stuff. Some of our efforts — like making a homemade pizza instead of spending $20 for delivery, for instance — might seem so small we wonder if they will ever make a difference. But if stay dedicated to being resourceful and thoughtful about spending, over time the many dozens of things we do will add up.

One day we finally pay off a credit card, and then another, and then the day comes when we no longer spend every dime on credit card payments and interest…and that will be just the beginning of even better things.

Little by little, our efforts will make a difference.

So let’s stick together in this endeavor — and let’s keep filling the gaps.

Sending you hugs and encouragement this weekend,

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Welcome to Day #1 of the January Money Diet

Happy new year 2015

If you’ve decided to try the January Money Diet this month, congratulations! Previous participants have accomplished amazing goals, from paying off credit cards to saving for a house down payment to funding emergency savings accounts.

The key to starting off 2015 financially strong is to radically cut spending on everything but the barest essentials. Together we’ll explore ways to spoil ourselves, eat well, enjoy fun activities, improve our surroundings, and have a wonderful time — all without spending cash.

What Are the Rules?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about this annual month of no spending is “How do you define essential expenses?”

The answer will be different for each one of us, and the good news is that there are no hard and fast rules for the January Money Diet. In our family, I keep it really simple:  I try to only spend money on the monthly bills and groceries. It’s quite amazing how much money is left over when I’m not regularly whipping out my debit card for non-essentials.

If spending is a temptation, you may want to leave your credit card in a safe place at home (one reader froze hers in a block of ice!) or try Dave Ramsey’s envelope system for paying only for the month’s essentials.

How Does It Work?

If you’ve participated before in the January Money Diet, you’ll notice two changes this year.

The first update is in the number of e-mails you’ll receive. In the past, I sent an e-mail every single day during January. Thirty-one e-mails can be a little too much for anyone’s InBox, though, so I’m trying a different approach this year.

You’ll receive a daily e-mail from me for the first five days of the diet. Each of these posts will discuss an important, key strategy for January Money Diet success.

After that, I’ll send out several e-mails a week with various ideas and challenges for you to try. I encourage you to share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section of those posts. Let us know about your victories and struggles, and we’ll encourage and cheer each other on!

Be Diligent and Win a Special Prize

The second change for this year’s money diet is that I’m giving away a large gift box filled with goodies to one lucky January Money Diet participant.

The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.

In past years I’ve done some smaller, random giveaways, but this year’s winner will be chosen intentionally. At the end of January I’ll ask you to share your results, and the prize winner will be someone who participates in the January Money Diet with heart and soul and achieves good results. Good luck!

Your First Challenge

On this first day of the January Money Diet, begin by doing some “shopping” at home. This is the perfect time to go through the closets and drawers looking for those unused things we all tend to hold on to for “someday.”

Take inventory at home for Day 1 of the January Money DietStart in the pantry and freezer; do you have any fancy, gourmet items or forgotten goodies lurking back in the shelves?

In my own kitchen, I did some excavating and brought forth a box of pumpkin bread mix, a bag of frozen blueberries, lasagna noodles, artichoke hearts, panko crumbs and baker’s chocolate. This month I’ll try to find creative ways to use these products (not all in the same dish, of course) and clear some room in the cabinets and freezer at the same time.

What about those specialty kitchen appliances and gadgets gathering dust? We have a paella dish, a tortilla press, and an ice cream cone maker (that’s right), all of which I plan to put into service this month.

Another place to “shop” at home is the bathroom cabinet; are there shampoo samples, fancy soaps, loofahs, pedicure kits and bath salts languishing in your cabinets? Gather them up and plan to use them. If not this month, when?

What about those unused craft and scrapbooking supplies? Home improvement materials? Fabric and notions? Yarn and knitting needles? Office supplies? Candles? Blank journals? January is a splendid month to take on a project using things you already have.

Check your medicine chest, too; are there vitamins and supplements languishing there? Take a look around the closets and drawers of your home, and you might find a treasure trove of good stuff just waiting to be used up and enjoyed.

Make a List

After you’ve gone on a scavenger hunt at home and taken an inventory of the products you plan to use this month, post a few highlights in the comments section below this blog post. You know we’re all just dying to hear what you unearth.

From our home to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. May these next 30 days be the beginning of your best year ever!

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

An Afternoon at the Flea Market

Cow salt and pepper shakers

Yesterday my friend C.J. and I went to the Lafayette Indoor Flea Market, which is like an antique mall with dozens of booths showcasing all manner of treasures and thrift.

I brought a camera along, which I’ve learned is handy to have when I’m with C.J. to capture the frequent photo ops.

Winter hat


Perhaps the process of looking at things through a lens clarified my thoughts, because I felt many emotions being stirred up as we wandered the aisles.

Like me, do you ever feel a little disconcerted seeing items juxtaposed in an unusual context?

Flea market finds


I don’t especially appreciate seeing familiar objects from my childhood marketed as antiques, either. We had a Watts-Hardy milk box just like this on our front porch in Boulder. Not that long ago.

Milk box


Things that were once treasured often become obsolete, a truth you can’t hide in a junk store. In 1984, Cabbage Patch Dolls were all the rage. They were so popular the company couldn’t keep up with demand, customers had fist fights over the dolls, and stores had waiting lists of up to 1,000 buyers.

Today? Not so much.

Cabbage Patch Dolls


My heart feels a little twisted when I see an artist’s original works relegated to a corner shelf in the flea market.

Flea market sculptures


Some items just creep me out, like these Jim Beam decanters.

Jim Beam bottles


I’ve never traveled to Africa or China, but I find it comforting to know that I could still accessorize my home with objects d’art from foreign lands.

African mask

Oriental figurines


Some of the old, broken toys make me feel a little sad.

Broken doll


But the good thing is, for every sad thing you see in a junk store you’re bound to find something that will make you smile.

Flea market doll


Smiles are everywhere, if you just look!

Happy faces

How about you? Do you love poking around in junk stores, or do you find them dreary? Have you ever discovered a fabulous treasure in a flea market? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #5 of All Done By December One – Make a Holiday Food Plan

Holiday food buffet

Photo: regan76

One of the best things about the holidays is all the wonderful food, but the preparation of special meals and extra treats can take a lot of time. Are there food items and menus you can plan or make now so that you’re a few steps ahead when December rolls around? Here are some ideas:

Christmas cookies cooling

Photo: jayneandd

  • The Pioneer Woman wrote a great post on freezer meals. She likes to prep things up to a certain point—cooking and seasoning a batch of ground beef, for instance—so that meal preparation is faster and easier.
  • You can make the dough, roll out and bake sugar or gingerbread cookies in festive shapes and freeze them. Then the only part that’s left to do is the fun part—decorating.
  • Plan the menu for a Christmas meal or party, so you can watch for non-perishable ingredients on sale in the coming weeks.
  • Make ahead something for Christmas morning, like a stollen or Freezer French Toast.
  • Try some of these make-ahead holiday appetizers for Taste of Home.
  • Or how about this elegant, make-ahead Christmas dinner from Fine Cooking?
  • Side dishes are great candidates for early preparation, like these 35 make-ahead side dishes from Better Homes & Gardens.
  • Are you in charge of dessert? Check out these freeze-ahead holiday desserts from Busy Cooks or these six make-ahead chocolate desserts from Real Simple.

Next, think about any food-related holiday gifts you’d like to make. Imagine the calm, serene feeling we’d all have if our food gifts were made and tucked away in the pantry, all prettily packaged and ready to give. It’s completely possible if we simply get started now. Here are some ideas for make-ahead food gifts:

Jars of cranberry preserves

Photo: imcountingufoz

How about you? Do you have any holiday treats or meals you can make in advance? Are you planning to give any food gifts this year? Perhaps you’d like to explore some of these ideas and get a jump on the preparations before Thanksgiving ramps up next week.

By the way, do you have a holiday-themed board on Pinterest? Be sure to share a link in the Comments section below so we can all visit. (Mine’s Happy Simple Holidays with easy Christmas foods, decorating ideas, wrapping, gifts, flowers and do-it-yourself projects.)

December 1 will be here in 13 days – how are your preparations coming along? Next week’s topic will be all about adding more meaning and joy to the season. In the mean time, I hope you’re having fun getting ready for a special holiday.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #3 of All Done By December One – Consider Cards and Paper

Family portrait

Photo: Chris, Awkward Family Photos

Do you send holiday cards? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Greeting Card Association (and you knew there had to be one), Americans purchase a staggering 1.6 billion holiday card “units,” some of which are boxes of cards, each year.

I’ve always liked Christmas cards, so our household accounts for about 75 of those “units” purchased each year. I love receiving cards, too, and keep them in a basket out on our coffee table during the holiday season. Those that include a family photo are always special, and I even like the form letters including a bit of news. Yet as I consider simplifying and striving to have a more eco-friendly holiday, I’ve been rethinking sending cards.

Some of the alternatives I’ve considered include:

  • Sending an online Christmas card via e-mail.
  • Setting up a family holiday page on my website.
  • Making a holiday video.
  • Sending a postcard instead of a traditional card. No envelope stuffing or licking, and postage is cheaper, too! (First class postage is 46 cents, and post card stamps are 33 cents.)
  • Forgoing cards, and connecting with loved ones on the phone or in person.
holiday cards

Photo: Designs by CnC

How about you? If you’re planning to send traditional Christmas cards this year, you may wish to begin some of the related tasks in the coming week:

  • If you want a special holiday portrait, schedule the appointment to get the photo taken this week. Or gather everyone in their matching red-checked outfits and snap the photo.
  • Alternately, create a collage-style card with photos you already have. Track down the photos this week.
  • Create your mailing list. A computer mailing list program can save you lots of time addressing envelopes, and you can even use Microsoft Excel’s mail merge feature.
  • Make, purchase or order Christmas cards. Or decide on an alternative like an online card and get started.
  • Purchase stamps. The US Postal Service now sells stamps on eBay, or you can order them directly from USPS.com and have them shipped to you.

You may also want to stock up on tape and recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags this week while you’re out and about. Don’t forget to check out the Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board for eco-friendly, no-cost and low-cost wrapping and card ideas. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and comments about holiday cards, and whether you’re sending them this year.

Here’s to taking more small steps during the next 30 days, and your happiest holidays ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. After the holidays, we’ll donate our used greeting cards to St. Jude’s Ranch Recycled Cards Program.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

All Done By December One Starts in Two Days

My son showed me that funny video last week, and I had to share it with you because it tickled my funny bone. Plus, it’s a perfect lead-in for a question:

Would you like this holiday season to be filled with more laughter and joy, and less stress and spending? “All Done By December One” kicks off on October 15, and you’ll be amazed at how organized you can get for Christmas in just 10 minutes a day. More than 60 folks have already signed up to tackle some holiday tasks early this year, in order to have some precious time during December to actually enjoy the season. Would you like to join in the fun?

This year, we’ve formed a group on Lift – a simple, surprisingly motivating spot where you can stop by and let the world know that you’ve done your daily 10 minutes. Lift is free, and currently very un-commercial. You can check out the group here:


(While you’re there, check out some of the amazing things people are accomplishing in small increments, from writing books to exercising to expressing gratitude and more.)

If you’re “in,” you can join the Lift group or simply leave a comment below. You can subscribe to free e-mail updates or simply check back at Happy Simple Living during the next six weeks for ideas and encouragement to simplify the holidays, get organized early and make some breathing room during the season for the things that really matter. Here’s to more time for family, friends and animals singing Christmas carols this season!


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. I’ll be posting about other topics during the coming weeks, too, for those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Do Something Nice Today and Enjoy a Better Tomorrow

Getting the coffee ready

Are you familiar with the FlyLady? Marla Cilley, a.k.a. The FlyLady, has a wonderful system for getting your house organized, and whenever I faithfully follow her program I reap such benefits. By getting in a routine and consistently focusing my attention on one area of our house for just a few minutes every day, our home becomes tidier, less cluttered and more enjoyable.

Perhaps one of the things I love best about the FlyLady’s approach is her gentle, feel-good encouragement. For instance, one of her very first baby steps is to get in the habit of cleaning and shining your sink before you go to bed at night. In her sweet way, she tells you that in the morning when you see that sparkling sink she wants you to feel a hug from her. It’s funny, but when I do take time to clean and polish my sink at night, it always makes me feel happy the next morning.

So recently, I’ve expanded that idea of a morning blessing. I always make the coffee before I go to bed at night (and may I just say right now:  God bless the person who invented the automatic coffee maker). Now I also set out my coffee cup, my homemade healthy sweetener and a spoon on a pretty French floral dish. It’s like a little gift that I give to myself to make the morning ritual nicer, and it always makes me feel happy.

I’ve been exploring other ways to spread some love the day before for a better tomorrow.  For example, sometimes I lay out my clothes, undies, jewelry and shoes for the next day which always helps me feel a step ahead somehow. Recently I had a meeting downtown, and the night before I printed out the directions in a nice large font and taped the paper to the door so that I wouldn’t have to scramble and figure out where I was going at the last minute. I arrived at the meeting twenty minutes early, relaxed, and even found a great parking place!

How about you? Can you do something today to bless yourself tomorrow? I welcome your thoughts and comments, and hope you have a happy Friday, an even better Saturday and a really wonderful weekend.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Save on Laundry Detergent With This Simple Tip

Measure laundry soap carefully at Happy Simple Living

Have you ever wondered why laundry detergent manufacturers provide us with such confusing measuring cups? You don’t think it’s so we’ll inadvertently use more than we need to — and thus buy more, do you? Nahh, surely they wouldn’t want us to waste their product just to make more profits.

(“They might or they might not be trying to trick us into using more detergent, but don’t call me Shirley!”)

One of these days I’m going to make my own laundry detergent, perhaps using this recipe from our friends at DIY Naturals. For now, though, I use the most eco-friendly phosphate-free detergent I can find in recyclable packaging, at the best price. “70 Loads,” the box proclaims.

Still, it comes with this confusing scoop. According to the directions, line #1 is for “medium” loads. Is a medium load a regular load of laundry? “For family size loads, fill scoop to top line.” (Who among us doesn’t wash family size loads of laundry?) But “fill scoop to top line” sounds like you’re supposed to fill the scoop, when  the top line isn’t the top of the scoop, it’s the line marked with a ‘2.’ And then, of course, you have the option to fill the scoop all the way to the top.

It takes some talent to fill the scoop to the ‘1’ line. I had to pour some out, then scoop some back in, then sprinkle a little more out. Writing this post made me wonder – how much detergent does it take fill the scoop to Line 1? In my case, it was about 1/3 cup.

Measure your detergent - Happy Simple Living

Filling the cup to Line #2 took 2/3 of a cup, and filling it to the top was almost a cup. In other words, if you fill the scoop every time you do a load of laundry, you’ll actually only get 23 or 24 loads out of that 70-load box.

You readers are so smart, you probably already pay close attention to exactly how much detergent you use. But if you’ve been a little befuddled as I have, you may want to take a moment to investigate exactly how much detergent you need to do an average load of laundry and carefully measure out just that amount from now on – or even a bit less. Small adjustments can add up over the long run, especially when many of us reduce our detergent usage a bit, load after load. We’ll all save money and help the environment. Shirley, that’s a win/win for everyone!

I also use the Cold cycle for most loads, rinse just once, and hang our laundry on the clothesline whenever possible. How do you manage the laundry operations in your household? Inquiring minds are dying to know.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.