How much time and effort is $2.00 worth?

We sorted a bunch of books and had a box to get rid of. I figured I could sell them and make a little bit of money. I had two goals for this little project:

  1. Make money
  2. Not create another big project that was just going to be added to the list and never get done.

I figured I could make some money by selling the books directly to buyers on ebay or amazon, but managing that was more effort than I was willing to make.

I ran across bookscouter.com, which lets you find companies willing to buy your books directly for resale. That is what I wanted, send all the books to one place, get money back.

So I scanned the first book. No one was buying that book right now. It took about 5 books before I found one that somebody was buying, for something like $0.05. I picked a few books that seeme most likely to have buyers and made it to a grand total of $1.50 in offers. I decided to abandon the project. It was not worth the time and effort it was going to take.

Two takeaways:

  1. The sunk cost fallacy is real. It is really tempting to keep doing something simply because you don’t want to waste the time and effort you have already put into it.
  2. Choices may have cost. I might be able to sell the box of books for 15 or 20 dollars if I put a lot of time and effort into it, but it would be a distraction from more important things. $20 would be nice, but not at the expense of giving up other more important things.

But what about bookscouter.com? I am not trying to diminish the product they have built. If anything it served it’s purpose perfectly. It let me get offers on my books from multiple sources quickly and make an informed choice about where to sell them. My choice just happened to be not to sell them. If you want a box of books let me know, just come get them.

Notes from a Blue Bike vs REWORK

There are a lot of books, blogs, podcasts and people talking about living a simple life right now….so…trendy. But, I want to know: What is a simple life?

I happened to read Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World and started listening to The Rework Podcast around the same time.

Notes from a Blue Bike is Tsh Oxenreider’s memoir/guide to pursuing a simpler life (see Beth’s review for some details). As I read the book it seemed to me that she does not really live a simple life though. Her family’s life sounded a bit chaotic to me, including living in multiple countries and cities, switching schools, late nights, early mornings, and squeezing in work on her book and blog in between sports practice. She even says “A book doesn’t write itself, and so most of my time exploring the notion of slowing down went to crafting the sentences to describe it, leaving me no time to actually slow down. I breathed a hefty sigh of relief when I clicked, ‘send’ to my editor, and promptly went to bed.”

The Rework Podcast is “A podcast about a better way to work and run your business. We bring you stories and unconventional wisdom from Basecamp’s co-founders and other business owners.” In Episode 2: Workaholics Aren’t Heroes they have a conversation about their principle that “40 is enough.” Basically, nobody in the company ever works more than 40 hours a week, and they never work after hours or on weekend, even if there is a big project deadline. If they start noticing that people are working extra or off hours they ask hard questions and figure out how to fix the problem.

So, who is living the simpler life? Tsh who has tons of flexibility, but a kind of crazy schedule, or somebody at Basecamp who has a set schedule, but knows they will never have to work odd or extra hours?

Tsh says:

The definition of living simply is “living holistically with your life’s purpose.” All the parts of your life are pointed in the same direction, towards who you are and what you were made to do.

I sort of feel like she is conflating simple and intentional (what do you think?). But no matter what, I appreciate that both Tsh and Basecamp have decided what they think is important to the family/business they are in, and are making intentional decisions to back up that importance. They both say no to things that prevent them from aligning their actions with their values, and make sacrifices to live those values out.

Today I Built a Bench

I have been thinking a lot about reinvention recently. How do you reinvent and remake yourself?

I was talking to my friend Bobby about this. He said I should read about Aldo Leopold. Leopold helped develop much of today’s Environmental Ethics and advocated for nature and wildlife preservation.

But he had a pretty big reinvention in his life. As told by the editors of Wikipedia:

Early on, Leopold was assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves, and mountain lions in New Mexico. Local ranchers hated these predators because of livestock losses, but Leopold came to respect the animals. He developed an ecological ethic that replaced the earlier wilderness ethic that stressed the need for human dominance. Rethinking the importance of predators in the balance of nature resulted in the return of bears and mountain lions to New Mexico wilderness areas.[15]

Generations later conservationist still find this reinvention meaningful:

In January 1995 I helped carry the first grey wolf into Yellowstone, where they had been eradicated by federal predator control policy only six decades earlier. Looking through the crates into her eyes, I reflected on how Aldo Leopold once took part in that policy, then eloquently challenged it. By illuminating for us how wolves play a critical role in the whole of creation, he expressed the ethic and the laws which would reintroduce them nearly a half-century after his death.

— Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior[24]

But the bench. After our conversation, Bobby gave me a Leopold Bench. Aldo Leopold built this simple bench out of whatever scraps of wood he had available when he needed one. I am not really sure what meaning the Leopold placed on the bench, but over the years a lot of people have endued it with deeper significance than a simple bench. I wanted to do the same.

To me, the bench has meaning simply because it was a thoughtful gift from a friend, and encouragement that reinvention is possible. Leopold did it. There are lots of reinventions I want to make in my life. One of them is this idea we talk about on this blog; living a focused, intentional life. I decided I would not put the bench together until I had finished repairing our deck. There are lots of reasons it had not been done, but all of them were basically rooted in fear of a big project I did not really know how to do.

The deck is done (sort of, there is a lot to do still, but those things are for later. It is Ok for now). Putting the bench together is a symbol for me that change is possible and that I am starting out on on the process and journey of my own reinvention.

What do you want to reinvent?

Grownup Book Reports: Notes from a Blue Bike

My thoughts on Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World. Or, why we are not getting a new car. (Yet.)

Overall this book didn’t contain any earth-shattering ideas for us on how to live more intentionally. However, it was an encouragement to read of someone who is also attempting to live a life of intentionality and simplicity-especially in our fast-paced and busy American culture.

And while I admire this family’s deep need to maintain flexibility so they can travel and experience the world, that’s not a value our family shares. Well, not that intensely anyway. Certainly we desire to travel and experience different cultures and we most definitely want to expose our children to those that live differently than us. But I wouldn’t say it is the central theme of our family.

We are actually still working through how to articulate what it is our family values are. But a rough version would be that we desire to live a life that allows us to help others change the world. We don’t necessarily have a need deep in our souls to be front and center to changing the world. But we do feel we have a role to play in helping others use their gifts, skills, talents, resources to make big and small differences in the lives of people right here and across the globe.

But back to the book…

One of the most inspiring parts to read was where she talks about how they were able to pay off a significant amount of debt.I think what really struck me was that they were able to pay off an amount of debt that is more than we owe, while making less than we make. It’s not that we have to be making so much more money each month. It’s that you have to prioritize and sacrifice now for reaping the benefits later. And the sooner you tackle the debt (or whatever hard thing it may be), the sooner you can live free of that burden.

While reading this we had been talking about purchasing a new car. We have one car for our family. One that is quite well-worn and needs some significant work. By many people’s standards we would be well justified in replacing this car. And we do want to replace this car. We even test-drove a vehicle and were approved to take out a loan.

But then I encouraged Ben to read this book too. And one night he said he thought we needed to hold off on getting a new car. And deep down I knew he was right. Because even as I was reading about their mantra that “Debt is not a tool,” I knew that this was a better decision for us. Taking out a loan to get a new vehicle is not necessarily a bad decision. And for us, right now, it isn’t necessarily that it is a bad or unwise decision. But paying off some other debt, saving some money, and making this vehicle work for a little longer just seemed like a better fit for us right now.

So we aren’t getting a new car. Yet. But we have a plan and a system to help us get to that point. And so we are choosing to put this desire on a back burner. Which, honestly, isn’t fun. I was really looking forward to a newer vehicle with power windows and locks. And doors that all opened from the outside. But I have peace about waiting on this one.

We Need a New Couch. But Not Yet.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of piles and stacks of things.

I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed when I walk through the house.

I’m tired of seeing piles of things everywhere and just adding to them daily because that’s easier than taking the effort to find a place to put something. It’s easier and faster to just set it down on the already growing piles. And really, there’s an art to stacking things, right? I mean, there’s some skill in adding the next piece to the pile without it coming crashing down.

There’s a quote that I cut out of a magazine probably 3 years ago. My intention was to have it posted somewhere I could see it on a regular basis. Like so many other things, it got buried in the bottom of a pile. I found it recently and put it on my weekly planner, where I’ll see it frequently throughout the day and week.

But we never make it pass the quote to cleaning up the clutter. A few weeks ago Ben and I decided that we needed a way to keep track of all the things that need to be done, not just the piles that need to be cleaned, but the projects and tasks, and budget items. So, we wrote down every to-do we could think of on post it notes, gave each one of them a priority and stuck them on the wall. It’s not exactly a great looking decoration that blends well with our Dining Room decor, but it is a system for setting priorities.

We need to this because I’m tired. And I’m ready to feel like we are making decisions on how to use our time, instead of feeling overwhelmed by a growing “to-do” list.

And already, I have felt a freedom and a sense of release by just using our new system for a matter of days.

For example, I want a new couch. Ours is a hand-me-down that has served us quite well for the past 14 years, but it’s tired. It’s saggy and uncomfortable. So, when we started all this, I wrote on one of my post-its that in 10 years I don’t want to be sitting on this same worn out couch anymore. And there is a feeling of freedom and release that I have found by writing on a post-it. It is something that is important to me. And together we can determine when the time is right to buy a new couch. But putting it on a post it helps me. It is out there & won’t be forgotten. And I am ok with prioritizing things like fixing the back deck, and preschool tuition because I know that my desire for a new couch is not being ignored or forgotten. It’s been made known and we agree that replacing the couch should happen. But it’s no longer an emotional decision to replace the couch because I found a good deal on one online that I really like and ‘a deal like this just won’t come around again.’ (That’s not true.) When the time is right, and we have the funds, we will be able to find a suitable couch in our price range. (That’s the truth.)

DSC_7184

To me, this is the beauty of the post-it system.

There is also freedom in looking at the wall and choosing to spend my 15 minutes of free time while both kids are napping to put some work in on something we have collectively decided is a priority. And that means it is ok for me to ignore some of the other things I feel a need to be doing.

So, I can spend 15 minutes searching Craigslist and AutoTrader for a new car. I don’t have to feel guilty for doing that. (Even though there are lots of other things that could be done…sorting the books that don’t all fit on the bookshelf…so instead, they get piled in stacks next to the bookshelf.) And many days, part of me really wants to just sit and sort through the piles of books and get rid of what doesn’t fit on the shelves, because I really LOVE doing tasks like that. But that fire isn’t the one that needs to be put out right now, so it is better to just let it burn (or simmer, as it were) and we will get to the books when some of the other, more pressing things have been tackled.

I’m still tired. But we are already making progress on things and throwing post-its away because we are accomplishing some of what we have set out to do.

I stay at home with a toddler and an infant. I might feel tired for the foreseeable future. But I have a renewed hope that I won’t be sitting in this saggy, worn out sofa forever. One day I’ll rest these weary bones on a new sofa, and I will enjoy it all the more because we worked hard to get to that post-it.

Turning a Blank Wall into a To-do List. Just Add Post-It Notes (and washi tape)

We needed a way to keep track of our household to-do list. The various scraps of paper and online lists were not working out so well, and we were both overwhelmed with projects and tasks that never seemed to get done.

There were two big problems that our new way of keeping track of things had to solve:

  1. We can’t see our lists, so we forget about them.
  2. We don’t know what projects are most important.

We needed to have a physical place where we could see our list. It is too easy for us to forget about the list on a phone, in the Cloud, or even on a sheet of paper that gets lost in the corner of the office.

We also needed to be able to give things levels of priority. For me, if everything is important I get overwhelmed, and I do nothing. There is also a big relational component to setting priorities. Imagine this (real) conversation:

Beth: “I want to get a new couch”

Ben (in my head): “Our couch is ok, we don’t have enough money for a new couch, there are lots of other things that are more important than a new couch, our couch is long so I actually fit on it…etc.”

Ben: “yeah…..”

Ben (in my head): “we really can’t get a new couch….”

Beth may want a new couch today, or she may just want us to get one someday. I may give too much energy worrying that Beth really wants a new couch. Or Beth might be annoyed that we don’t have a new couch. Or she may not care at all, it was just passing comment. I have no idea. We don’t have a way to prioritize “new couch” among all the things competing for our time, energy and money.

Our new to-do system has to force us to set priorities.

Post-It Notes seem like a good way to make things visible in the real world. So we wrote down all of our projects and things we want to buy. We came up with three categories of priorities:

  • Not Ok – Things that are not ok right now. They need to be taken care of now. There cannot be very many of these at a time.
  • Ok – Things that are ok for now. We don’t work on these. They are ok for now. If they become more important we move them to the Not Ok section.
  • Out of Sight – things that we need to keep in mind for someday, but don’t need to take up mental space on a daily basis.

We used some washi tape to divide up the wall. Not Ok and Ok things go on the wall. Out of Sight things go somewhere else.

We try to do a quick check in every morning to see what we are working on that day, and an in-depth check in once a week. If something needs to be moved to a new priority we move it. We are not doing a great job making those check-ins really consistent, so that is an important next step.

We are already seeing some things to change for version 2.0, so more to come on how the system is working for us, and how it should change.

We are not the first to do something like this. I did not know it at the time, but our system is a really simple variation on the Agile Methodology and Personal Kanban. There are plenty of people doing similar things. For a business to succeed they have to learn how to focus entire teams on the most important things. Our small team of four has a lot to learn about how to do that for us. But we think it will be worth it to live a life that prioritizes the important things, while not neglecting the things that have to be done.

Post-It Notes, Priorities and a Life Well Lived

I want to live an intentional life. A life where I finish what I start, I am part of a story that is bigger than myself, and I use my strengths to push my boundaries and capabilities. A life where I am doing what I was created to do in my vocation, community, and family. I want our family to live the same intentional life.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact pain of not living this way. It is pain of unfulfilled potential, the pain of a reality that does not match dreams, a life that does not align with values, feeling stuck and powerless.

This manifests itself in lots of ways.

  • You can see it in our house when we are not purposeful in the things we own. As a result, our belongings overflow the space we have for them.
  • You can see it on our finances, when we have not done a good job saving for the future.
  • You can see it in our to-do list, which is full of projects we never start or finish, but that still need to be done.
  • You can see it in how we spend our time. Instead of prioritizing people, experiences, and growth we prioritize screens.

It is important to acknowledge our blessings. We live a good life, we are blessed with more than we need, we get to have cool adventures and work for causes we believe in. We have a great community of friends and family around us and we have access to great activities for our family. And yet, there is a constant low-level feeling of being stuck, disconnected, stressed and dissatisfied. If we don’t deal with whatever is causing those feeling they grow and become true issues that are front and center in our life, causing real problems. If we do not deal with them we are certainly not living an intentional life, or living to our full potential as a family.

A couple weeks ago we were feeling really overwhelmed with a big to-do list where everything was urgent, impossible to get done and hard to keep track of. Instead of being intentional with our time to make progress we let things continue to pile up (sometimes literally!) and become more overwhelming.

We have a tiny bit of knowledge about business-ey project management systems (really a tiny bit of knowledge) like Lean and 5S thanks to working with CI Solutions at The Journey and Kibo Group. We figured there must be some way to use strategic planning ideas from business to help us be more intentional at home. So we got out some post-it notes, wrote down all our projects and tasks, stuck them on the wall, and made up a little system for prioritizing our lives.

We will do a post later about how it works, but the two most important things are that our entire to-do list is visible and prioritized. It is literally on the wall (no, the real wall, in our house, not that thing on Facebook) for all to see. That’s it, not too complicated.

ben visible and priority

We have had the post-it notes on our wall for a few weeks now, and it has been really helpful. It gives us a way to talk about priorities. More importantly, it gives us the freedom to not think about most of our to-do list. If it is not a priority we get to ignore it (sort of, more on that later….).

This simple system of setting priorities has already helped us be more intentional with our time, money and energy. We have finished or almost finished a couple big projects that have been hanging over us for a long time. Success!

But we think there is more to do. It is really good that we are finding a way to manage our household to-do list, but we don’t want to just get really good at crossing off tasks. We want to live our entire life with intention, so we are going to do a little project. For the next few months, we are going to blog about our experience trying to apply our little bit of knowledge about project management and strategic planning to our family. Follow along, we want your ideas and input, and you might get an idea or two from us. Let’s learn together.

We want to know, if you live by yourself or with a family, how do you keep track of your household to-dos?

So…a few things have happened

We last posted 1,343 days ago. A few things have happened. Like this:

Abraham is two and will start preschool this week. Eden is five months old and is super social, which is bad news for her introverted parents.

Here is the super quick update to catch you up.

We live in a great old house in Tulsa (built in 1924). Ben works for Kibo Group International. Kibo Group is a community development focused NGO in Uganda that works with rural village communities to live full, healthy lives. Beth takes care of Abraham and Eden. Highlights of her days are story times around town, reading books and keeping Eden from eating Abraham’s small toys.

Highlights from the last 1,343 days:

We won a new roof from Roofscapes Exteriors. Really, a free roof-which is a pretty big deal. They did a great job on it. If you are in the Tulsa area and need a new roof, check them out:

Our church sold it’s big building, changed the name, and is reinventing itself. It’s been fun:

Beth’s brother, Mike, got married to Audrey and they are about to have a baby:

We still cut a Christmas tree with the Burry family every year:

My brother Daniel gave Abraham a sword. Abraham really likes to throw said sword around the house:

I am trying to fix our deck:

We are resurrecting this blog to do a little project, more on that later. Welcome back.

 

 

Back to Uganda

Beth and I are headed back to Uganda. Crazy!

We have had the honor of getting to know the people and work of Kibo Group up close and personal. I spend a significant amount of my time working for them figuring out how to tell the story of Kibo Group to more people. We have been able to visit Uganda twice. I count it a privilege to get to work with people who are trying to solve big problems around the world.

So, I am taking a little business trip. I will be making videos, taking pictures, having meetings, and learning more about how Kibo fulfills our mission. Beth is coming along to help out. Its a bit surreal actually. The last two times we have gone have been with big groups, one of which we were leading. There was a lot of work to make sure everybody was ready, I had to get shots and buy power adapters, and it was all new. This time we just went on delta.com and booked some tickets. It’s still a really big deal! We are going halfway around the world to a totally different culture and place to learn and bring back a few stories. I am blessed.

If you want to know more about Kibo Group check out www.KiboGroup.org and find us on facebook. 

The True Cost of Clean Water

We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me.

Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, i did some checking and sure enough we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 really expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put in a little bit of pipe that ran 50 or 60 feet. It cost me $2100. On a side note, we worked with Mullin Plumbing on this, the guys that were out working let me just sort of hang out with them all day while they worked, I learned a lot and they did a good job, and got it done quickly. I have no idea if that was a good price, but it seemed worth it to be done quickly and well.

This one little job of replacing a small pipe points to a huge infrastructure that we have to provide clean water. I live in Tulsa, a small city with a population of 400,000 people (the metro area is 900,000). Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day. Tulsa’s water system has capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. Yellow pages lists 430 plumbing companies in the city. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In fiscal year 2014 the City of Tulsa $15,425,000 on water system capital projects. The operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. That $15,000,000 in capital expenditures were not for big projects. Replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements are the biggest things on the list.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently built a water treatment plant that treats .85 million gallons a day for $4,600,000. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water on an average day. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city (the 45th largest city in the United States). New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty three people have died working on the project. This country makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and invests in clean water. When our water pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by just putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that ether. In fact in some cities a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. Im sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to it’s residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and there was no private industry to take over . Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution, but imagine the impact, Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form.

A hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.