The Weight of Your Debt

Photo: Casey Allen via

Debt is often expressed in terms of weight. A heavy debt. A crushing debt load. The millstone around your neck. Debt? It’s heavy, man. How much are you carrying around?

I have debt. You have debt. Even if you think you don’t have it, you have it.  There’s that nagging little national debt that, believe it or not, we are all responsible for paying back. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of who exactly we owe it to. The banks, perhaps? The IMF? The Mafia?

In September 2015  every Canadian woman, man and child individually owed $17, 242.22.  I’m going to make it simple and round it up to $18,000 just ‘cuz that’s the way debt works. Unless you make a commitment to getting rid of it, it just gets bigger and bigger. That, and that the math gymnastics I’m about to do would be just too crazy if I got it down to the last cent. American’s owe an even bigger whack-load of debt, about $50,800 per person.

So just how much does that Canadian $18,000 debt weigh?

Continue reading The Weight of Your Debt

Listfluenza (or “5 Ways to Drive Me Crazy”)



ListFluenza  (or “5 Ways to Drive Me Crazy”)

No More Lists

6 Things You Should Throw Away Right Now”  “12 Things You Should Never Throw Away” – “10 Ways to Clean Up Your Diet” “7 DESSERTS WORTH BREAKING YOUR DIET FOR” …. Ach!

If my love affair with Pinterest ever starts to wane I can point directly to the Pins Recommended for Me today.  I already have enough chaos and second-guessing happening in my life. If the Pin Princesses can’t agree then I’m doomed.

Don’t let me give you the impression that I am anything less than addicted to Pinterest or that I don’t get a lot of pleasure out of trolling through other people’s passions. I LOVE Pinterest. Hell, I have 100 boards populated with 9.7K pins (I checked).  If all of those other bloggers didn’t create the content that I want to read, I wouldn’t be still awake at 2 AM checking out Pinterest from the bubbles in my bathtub while slowly pickling in the cooling water. (Not like that ever happens. Except for last night. And Tuesday.  And maybe Sunday…)

But enough with the lists already!

Being a bit OCD, lists are my joy and my terror. My joy because there is someone out there Telling. Me. What. To. Do.   And even better? Telling me in what order to do them.  No decisions to be made, reconsidered, acted on and then second-guessed. The arbiters of What is Good have clearly laid it out for me and all I have to is follow The List.  But this pillow has a fuzzy side and a nasty, scratchy side, sort of like a cheap throw cushion.  What if I don’t do everything in order?  What if I don’t finish the list? What I I never start?! The escalating anxiety can give me the twitches just writing about it.

And contradictory lists? That’s like putting a dog in a round room and telling him to go pee in the corner.  Mean and inhuman, I say.

Then there’s a faintly rebellious side that age doesn’t seem to be doing much about. Who are you to tell me what I SHOULD do?  Why should I? Just make me!

This side of my personality is, as you can easily guess, on the outs with my  goodie-girl “just tell me what to do” side.  (I should have been born a Gemini. ) A surfeit of  lists can set me to war with myself faster than deciding if I can get away with eating a DQ dipped cone while driving.

And the numbers! Suddenly we can’t count beyond 10 (12 if we’re  willing to test the gnat-like attentiveness of anyone stumbling through the interwebz). Oh sure, there’s a couple of good “20 ways …” and “50 Things …” lists but they’re outliers really.  A good blog post limits the numbers in the list to no more than the average person can read before getting called away by another shiny idea. I’ll guesstimate four minutes, max.

I’ve fallen prey to this kind of list-making madness. Some of my posts have one title here on Gift of Less but show up as a list on Pinterest.  What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then there is the freelance writing that I do. Lists sell; clever titles with esoteric references, not so much.

Maybe it is easier for our PacMan brains to mindlessly munch through good, mediocre and really not-so-good information when it’s packaged up in a neat list. I don’t know, because I haven’t figured out how to analyze this stuff, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that I’ve had more Pinterest readers or Twitter followers pick up on “5 Minimalist Blogs I Follow”  than if I’d only published the same article with its original title, “Sometimes it Endures Because it’s True”.

Is this just another example of the great dumbing-down of our culture? Or, like David Letterman and his original Top 10 lists, eventually destined to be retired to a question on Trivia Night at the pub?

What’s your take on lists? Tell me your top three reasons why you love or hate lists. Go on, I dare ya!



5 Types of Collections (2)

I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder. More of a collector, really.

A lot of people have collections. Some people’s collections go to museums when they die or they sell them for oodles of money and retire on the proceeds. Some people’s collections get written up in niche magazines like Mid-Century Snuff Boxes or Vintage Toe Rings.

My collections aren’t any of those. Generally, my collections of stuff fall into five categories.

The first, and probably largest, is the Just in Case collection. These are the mismatched towels that have seen better days and craft supplies for hobbies I used to do. I keep them just in case I need 20 ratty towels. You know. If there’s a surprise overnight visit from a band of roving dirt bikers during a rainstorm.

There are the Sentimental collections, of course. The clothes and costume jewelry I don’t use any more but haven’t given up because I remember the parties I wore them to. If my daughter was into vintage dressing, she’d probably be begging me to let her into that part of my closet. Too bad she’s not and is more likely to look sideways at me with a raised eyebrow whenever I pull out some little gem like my sequined blouse from the seventies.

There are the Valuable collections, like the important papers that are carefully protected from the light of day by the boxes of unimportant papers that hide them.

And there are what I call the Lazy collections, the boxes of kitchen gadgets I don’t use, the plastic food savers that don’t have lids and the makeup that should have been shown the trash bin months (years?) ago.

I also have some of the less touchy-feely collections (which means you can’t touch or feel them).  Collections of bad habits. Collections of poor money choices. Collections of calories I have consumed. I like to carry these collections with my always so I can pull them out whenever I start feeling too good about myself.

Some collections are worth keeping just as they are (Valuable collections), some are worth keeping but maybe in a different format (maybe I could turn my Sentimental collections into photobooks) and some collections just don’t need be part of my life. Yes, I’m looking at you, Ms. Just in Case and Madame Lazy.

Just in Case  and Lazy collections are prime candidates for purging, re-gifting, selling and trashing. Those ratty towels might be useful to the local animal shelter and all those crafting supplies might be welcomed by my kindergarten and elementary school teacher friends.

And those other collections? The ones that keep me mired in the muck of regret and self-recrimination? They should definitely be kicked to the curb. I know it will take more than empty boxes and drop-off bins to move those collections out of my house.

Stay tuned on that subject.


What collections do you have? How many of them would you be willing to give away if you had the right incentive?  

photo credit: frogs & turtles via photopin (license)


Writing Sample: Event Review

From time to time I post a sample of the writing I do for other organizations and companies.  This article was printed in the quarterly chapter newsletter of a national professional association in June, 2015. 

The Road to Life is Ever Under Construction

By Sophia Oldford, CAE

“People take up the trapeze for many reasons,” says Ezra Trigg, Director of the Gorilla Circus in England. “Some people have stressful work lives, and it’s a release. As soon as they’re up in the air, they don’t have to worry about anything on the ground.” [i]

Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature was the guest speaker at the CSAE OG Volunteer Breakfast. She opened her presentation, “The Road Less Travelled”, by stating that “The road to life is ever under construction”. Listening to Ms. Beckel, you don’t find it strange at all to learn that she includes gigs as a trapeze artist and aerobics instructor at Club Med in between her senior positions in banking, the performing arts and higher education.

On a rainy day in June over 35 CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter volunteers gathered for a much-appreciated hot buffet breakfast at the elegant rotunda of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Networking was lively throughout the morning.

Andrea Fernandes, Sales Representative and Protocol, Canadian Museum of Nature and Christine James, CAE, Associate Director, Membership Services and Programs, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, co-chairs of the CSAE O-G Membership Committee welcomed everyone to the event.

Jasmine Lidington, CAE and Past President of CSAE OG, spoke about the best way to connect members and share knowledge. She emphasized the importance of volunteering to the fabric of our community and how new volunteers keep the chapter vibrant and amazing.

Andrea introduced the guest speaker Margaret Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature.  When Andrea used words like, “courageous” and “bold” and “inspiring” to describe Meg the audience knew that she would be interesting. Just how interesting was a surprise!

Picture this. A woman leaps from challenging job to demanding post to … circus performer? This describes Meg’s career trajectory. She shared that, “Winging it makes it interesting, but you have to really know yourself.” She certainly gained that knowledge as she moved from a career in corporate banking to fundraising for the performing arts (ballet, theatre and symphony) and universities (Calgary and Victoria) to running museums (Royal Ontario Museum), back to university fundraising (University of Waterloo) and finally, to the Canadian Museum of Nature. Oh, and a few weeks and months of teaching and performing at Club Med in between.

Meg’s career certainly hasn’t moved in a linear path but it does have rationale. She offered us some valuable takeaways.

  1. “Banking had services, ballet had magic.” Discover the power of passion and commitment.
  2. Ballet dancing for 17 years and Saturdays spent with the ROM kids’ club paid off. Childhood passions can turn into adult careers.
  3. Everyone’s in it together. Collegiality can make a difficult situation bearable.
  4. If you need to rebuild trust, you need to be honest. Commit to being a person of integrity.
  5. Take a break when you are fried! Do something that allows you to step away from your stress, like working the double trapeze. (Author’s note: I preferred to become a lifeguard. I like my feet on the ground. And wet.)
  6. Teaching aerobics didn’t end after Club Med. Keep something that gives you control when your work life doesn’t.
  7. Sometimes a professional move backwards allows you to rediscover the magic.
  8. Facing scary moves in your professional path will test you but you will learn a lot about yourself.
  9. When you’re consumed with your job you have no room for your friends, family or partner. Protect your work life balance.
  10. Stretch yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Volunteers are free to seek roads other than the one that brings home the paycheque. Knowledge given and received, supporting a cause, and networking are just a few of the rewards volunteering for the CSAE Ottawa Gatineau Chapter offers. Coming together to express our appreciation to our volunteers is like cake; sweet and sustaining. Being inspired at the same time is the icing on the cake.

[i] Simons, J.W. (2014, February 8). How I learnt to be a trapeze artist. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

How to Avoid Analysis Paralysis and Get It Done


Every day I receive an email with a Pāli Word a Day. This email has become a lovely reminder to stop for just a few seconds to consider an idea. It’s a little freaky how often the word directly relates to something I need to hear.

Today the Pāli word is akampita — that which does not tremble.

Some days I just get overwhelmed. There are so many things I want to accomplish. What freezes me in my tracks are the things I need to accomplish.

Continue reading How to Avoid Analysis Paralysis and Get It Done

How to Set Your Book Collection Free

5 Ways to Shrink Your Book CollectionYou read my post about deconstructing my book collection, you felt motivated to clean out your book case and now you’re ready to set all of those books you’ll never read again (or never read at all) free.

Good on ya! When you separate the wheat from the chaff and only keep what you truly love you’ll feel lighter, have more space to breathe and will actually see the things that give you joy.

But what to do with those books that no longer have a place in your life? Continue reading How to Set Your Book Collection Free

Sometimes it endures because it’s true.

5 Minimalist Blogs I follow (1)Less is More is such a cliché. As clichés go, it’s been around for years.  One hundred and sixty of them, in fact. Robert Browning first said it in a poem in 1855.  (Browning was always such a trendsetter!)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used it in the 1960’s to define minimalist design in architecture. It’s been used countless times since to describe everything from design to dinner.

There are quite a few blogs on minimalism. One of my favourites and perhaps most well-known is The Minimalists. “Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers.” Heady stuff. Four million (million?!) readers are interested in simplifying their lives. Minimalism, according to Joshua and Ryan, According to The Minimalists, “minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important, so you can find happiness, fulfillment and freedom.”

Here are five blogs on simplified living that I’m following right now.

Blonde on a Budget
Cait Flanders was 29 when she realized she was $28,000 in debt with not a lot to show for it. Her award winning blog (Plutus award winner 2014 for Best Canadian Personal Finance Blog) chronicles not only what she did to retire her debt in two years (which included a full year of buying nothing) but also how she reduced her belongings by 70%. Not only is Cait witty and wise beyond her years, she’s Canadian. This woman’s my hero!

Joshua Becker is married with two kids and lives in Arizona. About six years ago he had an epiphany while cleaning out the garage. I usually just get frustrated and snarly when I clean out my garage. Where did all this stuff come from and how can I rearrange it to make it look a little less… stuffed?! Joshua and his wife took a different tack and in May 2008 his blog Becoming Minimalist was born. There is a wealth of information, philosophical discussion and very practical advice. Joshua has written four very popular books that are all worth checking out (of the library!) and reading.

To round out the New World theme, the third blog is by Antipodean Brooke McAlary. (Antipodean = someone from Australia or New Zealand. There. The one thing you needed to learn today. You’re welcome.) Brooke lives in Australia with her hubs and two kids. Her blog Slow your Home is her story of consciously shifting the way she and her family lives after experiencing some pretty big smackdowns. “So I need to slow down. I need to simplify. I need to re-evaluate our priorities. I need to have less and be more,” Brooke said. “I need to look at our home and all it entails – family, relationships, health, house, garden, kitchen – and slow it all down. Leave space for life to happen.”

The fourth isn’t really a blog. It’s a vlog on YouTube called The Daily Connoisseur. Jennifer L. Scott is a charmingly elegant woman who came to minimalism after spending six months living with a family in Paris while going to school. I would describe Jennifer’s approach as the minimalism of quality. She is less “buy your clothes at the thrift shop” and more “buy the highest quality you can afford and treat it well”. One of her more popular themes is her 10-item wardrobe (although that’s a bit misleading since she doesn’t count inner wear, workout wear, outerwear, evening wear or cleaning-out-the-basement wear). She is also the author of three books based on her time with her Parisian host, Madame Chic.

Finally, I’m going to leave you with Mike Burns. Take one look at his blog The Other Side of Complexity and you’ll see right away why this guy makes me smile. His posts on what minimalism is and isn’t and why minimalism doesn’t mean that you have to throw out everything you love really dovetails with my own philosophy.

Do you believe that Less is More? Will you share your favourite blogs on minimalism, aggressive debt-busting or simpler living? Thanks in advance!

Photo Credit: n.white1 via Compfight cc


My Deconstructed Book Collection

Only Keep Books That Bring You JoyWhen I was about 10 I was cast as Alice in Alice in Bookland, a school play designed with a maximum number of characters with a minimum number of lines. (No one looks forward to the school play unless their child has a speaking part. Bums in seats, people!)

I kicked off the first scene by sighing heavily, throwing a frown at a stack of books set on the table in front of me  and proclaiming loudly, “Books, books, books! All there is to do is read books!” This was followed by a big yawn. I put my head down on the desk and promptly pretended to fall asleep. This early childhood conditioning explains why I can’t read in bed for more than fifteen minutes without nodding off.

The rest of the play was a parade of well-known characters dancing their way through my dreams. All except for Charlie, of course.  He wasn’t the most graceful guy in the class and whoever thought he’d do well in a Mickey Mouse costume with Mickey Mouse shoes just wasn’t thinking.

In spite of my opening line, I loved books before, during and forever after that play. When I go to my happy place it’s just as often a vision of a cozy room with a fireplace, a comfy chair and floor to ceiling bookshelves as it is the requisite tropical beach scene.  In my house-before-the-last I actually had a long wall of bookshelves surrounding a fireplace. It was one of the few spots in the house I ever considered “done” and I took great joy in displaying all those books, even the ones I had never read or would never read again. I thought that wall said a lot. Look at me! I read Important Books by Important Authors, I have first editions and signed copies. Yes, I am intellectual and  interesting and you should think well of me!

In my next house I had a smaller bookshelf but among the books I loved and re-read there were books I kept because I liked what I thought they said about me. Yes, I read Tolstoy! Yes, I read Dante! Yes, I read …. okay, well, I have their books. I’ll get around to reading them …. eventually.

In this house there is no such bookcase. Somehow it just hasn’t been as important to me to show off what I read (or even what I plan to read …. eventually). When I realized that in all those years of owning Important Books by Important Authors, no one had ever commented on it. No one had ever perused my bookshelves and then given me an approving look for my obvious intellect and literary good taste.

When we packed up our last house before moving into our current home I dropped off three boxes of books at my local second hand bookstore and another two at the library.  I felt lighter. (Actually, I felt a little sore because those boxes were heavy.) I have a store credit at the bookstore and I feel good knowing that sale of the books at the library helped them buy new ones that I might want to check out some day.

I don’t keep many books anymore but I still have two or three boxes of books in the basement to go through. Each one that stays will have to really tug at my heart strings to warrant a place on my minimalist bookshelves. I don’t need physical evidence of my literary snobbery or my wide range of eclectic interests and I don’t need to look for outside approval as much as I used to.

My books, just like my car or my clothes or my kids, aren’t reflections of me.  I may enjoy them (books), have fun with them (clothes) or adore them (my kids). But you probably won’t think differently of me if you know that I once read War and Peace, have every book in the Outlander series or used to collect signed political memoirs.

In a few years, when we are living in on the road or in a much smaller house, there will be no room for literary hangers-on. The books that will earn precious space on my minimalist bookshelves will be important to me not because I want you to know I read them but because they are useful, are on my current reading list or have meaning to me and are irreplaceable.

The rest I’ll find at the library, shelved somewhere in the same building as Alice in Wonderland.

What about you? Why do you keep the books you do? Do you keep books that you will only read once or have never read at all? Would shrinking the size of your book collection lighten your load?


Photo Credit: Ned James via Compfight cc

Tackling the Walk-In

The Walk-InHow many clothes do you own? Do you wear them all? Half? One-third? One-quarter? Less?

My besties and I spent some time (okay, almost four hours, don’t judge me) purging my closet. It’s safe to say we were all a little shocked at how much came out of that closet. Why did I have so many clothes? I’d have to change four times a day, every day, to need that many clothes.

Armful after armful came out of that walk-in and I tried on just about every single piece.

We probably share these little gems of reality. I bought some pieces because they were on sale and too good to pass up. I bought some because I was feeling low that day and used retail therapy to cheer myself up. I bought some to go with something else. Some were gifts. Some came from who-knows-where-because-I-don’t-remember-EVER-bringing-THAT-home.

Some pieces were worn to death and had that shabby look. Not the shabby chic look that can look so cute on furniture. Just shabby. Pilling, limp, stretched out shabby.  Why did I still keep them? Because they felt comfortable, fit my idea of who I am, and looked pretty good, even if just from a  distance.

There were more than a few things with tags still on them. Clearly not the wisest purchases.

And then there were the pieces that came out of the closet, got the big uh-uh from my friends and went straight into the discard pile without me even trying them on.

In the end I set out three and a half large garbage bags of clothes for the Clothesline project for the Canadian Diabetes Association. (You call, they pick up, they sell = fundraising. Win win win.) My friends each left with a couple of things (yay for sharing!) and there is still a small pile to go to the consignment store.

And what’s left?

Taking a cue from Project 333 I chose 33 pieces for this spring and summer. I didn’t include my golf or gym clothes, messy garden/painting/cleaning clothes or just hanging out at home stuff.  I also didn’t include shoes or accessories. Project 333 rules include these things but I didn’t. Baby steps.

I hung the keepers on a rolling rack and the fall/winter gear went back into the closet.  I’m going to sew a few simple cotton covers for the out of season stuff to reduce the visual clutter. When the covers are on and the temptation to pull things out to join the chosen 33 is gone reduced I’m going to retire the rolling rack and move this season’s clothes back into the walk-in.

I built a workable wardrobe for any public occasion.  All the pieces go together, are in good shape and flatter me.  I can pull anything off that rack and be good to go.

Or so I thought.

First I found out that no, I can’t live without at least one little black dress. No problem. I pulled out my most favourite LBD. I’ve worn that dress twice in the last week so it makes the cut permanently and another dress that looked more fall-ish to me anyway went back into the closet.

Then I tried on the black shorts and realized that while they technically fit they were just too tight to be comfortable.  Uh oh. Weren’t there a couple of other things that would look better once I have five fewer pounds on my bones? I tried on everything once again and ended up with some clothes that just didn’t make the cut. I tagged the hangers and returned them to the closet. If they don’t fit by July 1 out they go. Just call me Ruthless Ruth.

And the weather turned cold, again. I pulled a couple more long-sleeved tops and a fleece vest out and put a couple of lighter tops back into the closet.  The count is still at 33 but I’m pretty sure that there will be a few more changes before July 1.


1. I have to be honest with myself. I’ve gained 25 pounds in the last five years. Either I lose the weight (1st choice, natch) or I start shopping in the Big Girls aisle. Trying to squeeze into clothes I bought when I was two sizes smaller is just dumb and dishonest.

2. The weather changes radically in three months in Ottawa. Keeping a core of fewer items and adding and subtracting weather-appropriate clothing as needed makes more sense. I need an A-List of core pieces for six months, a B-List of pieces that might be needed, and a C-List of things that I definitely can cover and forget about until it’s time for a full switch-over in the fall.

3. There’s a fine balance between minimizing for simplicity’s sake and trying to meet an arbitrary number just to say I can.  The point of downsizing is to reduce the clutter so the loved, valued and useful has space to shine.

I had intended to post my 33 items to help out anyone who wanted to try this approach. I still plan to do that but I think I need to spend some time communing with my rack of favs first.  It’s a pretty safe bet to say that there just might be another change or two in the wind.

What about you? When was the last time you tackled a purge of your closet? Do you have a wardrobe plan?


Tiny Houses

This morning I came across a YouTube of a Tiny House in progress. (I’m supposed to be painting a wall in my office our den but everyone knows that a little YouTubing is an excellent motivator and a highly productive use of time, right? Not.)

My son has been obsessed with tiny houses for a while and more and more I share his obsession. Mine is turning into an obsession for RV’s because The Hubs is far more interested in living in an RV and I’m smart enough to know that unless the whole team is on board it ain’t gonna happen. Not without tears, anyway.

I followed the tiny house YouTube to the blog and (you know how this story goes, right?) I ended up reading the entire blog. Chelsea, the pen behind has only posted eight entries so it didn’t take long. But the pictures! I’m crushing on this blog and I hope she posts more soon!

Chelsea and Adam’s tiny house is parked in Portland, OR on ½ an acre and right next to a park. How much better could it get? And their tiny house is beautiful. It looks like a house I could be comfortable in, complete with a real shower, a washer/dryer, a full fridge and outstanding cabinets that Adam built.

Too many of the tiny houses we’ve looked at look like a collection of dumpster-dived cast-offs. I have fewer objections to reusing stuff than a lot of people but a coat of paint goes a long way. There’s being authentic to the source and then there’s just plain dingy.

Chelsea and Adam’s house has none of that vibe. Their house is a beautiful blend of new and re-newed.

Chlesea jokes that they could probably sleep eight or more in their tiny house.

I wonder if I can put dibs on a bed now.

What about you? Does the idea of living in a tiny house make you want to call up the chuck all that stuff and move into 150 square feet  of perfect simplicity?