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Part III: 2 Jobs, 1 Nightmare

Welcome to Part III of my ‘There and Back Again’ series. This is meant to provide background on the ‘Dogs or Dollars’ journey  of the past 3 years. Please take a moment to read Part I: The Layoff and Part II: The Leap

The Husband has always been a blue collar kind of guy. Early on, I thought this would change. That someday he would sit at a desk just like the rest of us. I was wrong. He likes to build things, big or small. He likes to be outside and work with his hands. He’s good at it.

But, the trades, they are fickle. You deal with a lot of fly-by-night operations. Mostly no insurance or benefits, and you have to be careful or you’ll get burned.  To circumvent all this, some years ago, he joined a union. After an apprenticeship, he would have a guaranteed hourly wage, health insurance, a vacation fund, an annuity. You know, the “real job” stuff I always dreamed of.

It’s still one of those jobs where, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. And subject to project time tables, supply shortages, and flaky people. Every now and then, you end up with an unexpected day (or week) off, unpaid. Just Because. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It can’t be helped. It is the nature of the beast.

That’s an occasional thing. The exception not the rule. In the 5 years leading up to The Leap, work had been stable for The Husband. In fact, he’d worked primarily for one company that whole time. Plus, if work ever got really scarce, there’s this magical place called ‘the union hall’, where they give out jobs each morning.

We were ready for The Leap. I would quit the Corporate America job I so loathed. He would be the bread winner for a while. We’d be a blue collar family. We had a healthy emergency fund and medical through the union. What more could we ask for? We’d both have jobs we wanted and less money, and be hap-hap-happy! about it.

In February 2010, just 6 months after we put all our eggs squarely in the Union basket, The Husband was laid off.

No big deal. He’d trek down to that magical union hall and get another job. Trek he did, and put his name on the list. Along with the 500 (literally) other individuals in his union who were very suddenly out of work. This was unprecedented. What was going on?

The economic slow down was late to hit our  little PNW bastion. When everyone else was already reeling, we naively thought it had skipped us. Things couldn’t get much worse, so we were mostly safe, right?

Commercial construction, The Husband’s bread and butter, suddenly dried up. As most of the existing projects neared completion, no one was financing new ones. For those 500 people down at the hall, 2 to 3 jobs a day would typically roll in. Sometimes as many as 6, but often 0.  Getting a new job used to take days. Now, there were people sitting there for months.

This was my Worst Case Scenario. The Husband collected unemployment checks, which were about 1/2 of his normal income. I brought home 1/3 of what I’d previously made in Corporate America. The Big Fat Mortgage now represented more than 50% of our monthly take home.

Needless to say, while all this was happening, I remained calm, cool and collected. Of course. I wouldn’t be running around tearing my hair out, bearing mountains of guilt for quitting my cushy corporate nightmare. Because, really, what would that accomplish?

Well, if I could have helped such behavior I would have.

It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time; My spiral of worry and doom and gloom. Again, this was worst case scenario. To some degree, I was prepared. I even had a budget all drawn up for just this circumstance. We buckled down. We scrambled. We sold stuff. I bumped up our savings. The Husband put the word out to our friends and family that he was available for hire. This resulted in a boom of side work. After his daily trips to the union hall, he built fences and railings and helped a friend remodel. Engage overdrive.

Unfortunately, overdrive is unsustainable for any length of time. You run out of things to sell. There are only so many projects your friends want done. Usually this kind of effort would see us through until work plentiful again. Not this time. Weeks were turning into months.

After 2.5 months this, with no end in sight, I sent casual email to my old boss. You know, just checking in, doing fine, if you had any part time contract work, I’d be interested. Very casual.

A month later, I got the phone call. After much paperwork and rigamarole, I finally start back with my original, pre-layoff employer in May. The Husband had been out of work for 5 months.

This was a part-time, short term (3 month) contract to do mostly off-hours work 2 or 3 times per week. I would show up at about 4pm or 5pm, after finishing my day at the Pet Store, and work until 11pm or Midnight. Sounds fun, right? (Note: Sarcasm) It paid 3 times my hourly rate at the store. With this job, I could make up for The Husbands lost income.

Now, we were still paying our mortgage. We weren’t behind on any bills. We just didn’t have a whole lot of extra for unexpected, big ticket items; like vet bills or car repairs. I’d been treading very carefully and had managed to avoid touching the Emergency Fund. The 2nd job would give us breathing room. No more walking around on egg shells.

I went into this gung-ho. I was fortunate to have the opportunity. Pet Store Boss Lady was in the know, but less than thrilled. I told everyone, including myself, that this was short term until we were back on our feet and/or The Husband went back to work.

Only, The Husband didn’t go back to work. At the end of August they renewed my contract for another 3 months. Similar story in December, when they renewed my contract again until March. No work for The Husband and a minimum of 50 hours a week for me.

During this time, my gung-ho ran out. I went into survival mode. I slept, I exercised, I ate and I worked. I had 1 day off per week, and I focused on making it as low key as possible. I became very hard to get a hold of. I started to resent all other demands on my time. As this wore on, I wore out.

Boss Lady desperately wanted me to quit my other gig. To commit to just the Pet Store, as was my original intention. She wasn’t going to fire me. During this whole dark time, regardless of the triple-rate, that is where my loyalties laid, with the Pet Store. Somehow, I continued to improve there. I got better and better at my job. I loved it. I wanted to be there. I drug my feet leaving to go to Corporate America. I kept the amount of time I spent there to a minimum, just to pay the bills. Financially this made no sense. It was so much more about heart than head.

How could I cut that Corporate lifeline though? That would be burning a bridge; a bridge I was actively using. Even if The Husband went back to work, who knew how long it would last?

There I sat. I couldn’t quit the job I wanted to because I needed it financially, and I wouldn’t quit the job I wanted to keep, because, well, I didn’t want to. Stuck. With no sleep and no time. No way out and no room to think. And so it went, for a year.


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Money Saving Monday: The Fruits of my Labor.

2 hours of picking Blackberries on your lunch break equals…

8 jars of jam to be used as Christmas presents (and for my own enjoyment), plus 1 Husband-made Blackberry pie, which accompanies last nights Tongue Tacos. They were tasty, I gotta say.

The Blackberry return on investment, not too shabby.

If that’s not enough, the mushroom kit we bought a few weeks ago, is going gang-busters!

I’ve harvest 3 large clumps (Think: larger than adult hands) and we are off to our 2nd round of growth. Oyster mushrooms are lovely on Friday Night Pizza, and will be making an appearance in several of this weeks dishes. At this rate, this kit will more than pay for its $20 price tag.

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Sunday Spending: Tongue Tacos.

This is my weekly update to my on-going Once A Month Shopping experiment.

Speaking of experiments, when you order a 1/4 cow, you sometimes get a tongue. What do you do with a 3lb cow tongue? Apparently, you make tacos, according to the Husband. Tacos la Lengua to be exact. I am assured this is a tasty dish, often found on Taco Trucks. In leiue of grocery shopping tomorrow, we are cooking up a batch (plus some carne asada for the faint of heart. stomach?) and inviting over a group of friends.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, this is week 3 of 4. We are in the home stretch. Interestingly enough, Trent over at the Simple Dollar, wrote about cutting down on his grocery store visits. For him, its been a big money saver recently. I’m planning a recap/lessons learned for the month. Let’s just say, I do no think the same will be true for us.

As I alluded to last week, we didn’t make it until Sunday. Oh, no. We made it all the way to Tuesday, before the coffee filter supply gave out and circumstances became desperate. Needless to say, we made a trip to the local co-opish grocery.

$54 spent, including $6 Chinook Book coupon. Other than coffee filters, we got bananas, chips, onions, mayo, tortillas, and a couple of items for the above mentioned tongue feast, as it is a deviation from the menu.  There are definitely some staples  not adequately accounted for in the beginning of the month shopping, which we were in need of.

We did  ‘stock up’ a bit, knowing we wouldn’t be making another trip for 10 days. But we should sail through this week and make it to the end of the month, without being quite at Old Mother Hubbard status.

Like I said, working on the recap, and menu for next month. The Husband and I were singing the praises of  our grocery store-less weekend just this morning. The current thought is that, with some tweaks, this is definitely worth repeating.

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The Emergency Fund(s)

Over the years I’ve cultivated a rather elaborate Emergency Fund System, involving multiple accounts, and what I consider a a healthy safety net. The birth of this system, in its current iteration, began with The Layoff. Funny, how a major shake up puts savings strategies and priorities into perspective.

See, my primary Emergency Fund (also known as the Off-Shore account because it makes me feel exotic) is large. Most financial ‘experts’ may say too large. I’ve heard it all before. Blah, blah, blah better returns in the market. Yadda Yada  inflation is just eating away at it yadda.

While that logic may be sound(ish), it doesn’t help me sleep at night. Having a nice, fat Emergency Fund does. So I leave Off-Shore where it sits, and every now and again, it gets another infusion of cash.

For me, the whole point of the Emergency Fund is not to spend it. Part of taking care of Off-Shore is to protect it from unnecessary pillaging. Off-Shore is linked to our checking account, but not at our brick and mortar credit union. I’m ok with it being just a little more difficult to access.

By my math, without making a single change to our spending, Off-Shore represents 6 months worth of expenses. In actuality if the poo hit the oscillator, it would be more like 9 months to a year.  This is our true Emergency Fund. This is the lost your job-somebody died-no income-cant pay your mortgage money. This is the money I never want to touch. It represents the vast majority of our cash savings. Someday it will come in handy. I just know it.

How do you protect your primary Emergency Fund?

Enter elaborate system and a small population of  ebbing and flowing slush funds.

At any given point in time, they look something like this.

Account #1. Base $500  I get a promotional interest rate on and mostly ignore.

Account  #2. Carries a balance of between $1000 and $5000. (or $0)

Account #3. Carries a balance of between $0 and $1000.

These are linked to our Primary Checking Account for ease of money transfer. The system works like this.

I focus my deposits on growing either account #2 or #3. For example, right now the balance on #2 is $3000. Balance on #3 is $0. I am actively contributing to #2. When its balance reaches $5000, I switch to depositing into #3. Once I have $1000 in #3, the balance of #2, will be shipped off to the Off-Shore account. The process begins again. This time with me actively growing account #3 until it gets to 5K. Rinse. Repeat.

This system accomplishes many things. A couple of them being most important to me.

  • Never leaves me with less than $1500 cash on hand. Usually there’s more, but this is a minimum I am comfortable with. It’s enough to cover car repairs, vet visits, unexpected bills, etc., without dipping into the Off-Shore Account.
  • These accounts are feeders to the Off-Shore Account, and keep my long term savings growing.

By working in 5k increments, I  have an attainable goal to strive for. I am always trying to get to that 5k. It’s a game I play. It doesn’t really matter how long it takes to build it up. Although, Ive certainly had races to see how fast I can get to the magic number.  Rolling that chunk up to Off-Shore never gets old. Since Off-Shore carries a larger balance, normal deposits don’t make much of an impact. 5k however, is a satisfying number.

Because of this systems, our budget consists of a lot of money ear marked for savings. This acts as a great cushion. When the inevitable mini-crisis does happen, paying for it usually involves redirecting funds intended for savings, rather than actually decreasing the balance on a slush fund. At the very least, the blow to the account usually isn’t as harsh.

We’ve been operating under this model for years now. This is in addition to targeted savings accounts intended for specific goals. But, that’s another topic entirely.

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Am I.

Black Gold
The Indian Summer here has been gorgeous this week. I’ve spent my last 2 lunch hours on the trails adjacent to my office picking black gold. A little over 2lbs per day. 

As you can see my bounty runeth over. What will I do with them? Thoughts of jam or pie or both are swirling in my head.

My co-workers make cracks along the lines of ‘Congratulations! You just saved yourself a $1.50.’ Which is both false (It’s about $15 worth of berries per trip) and totally beside the point.

More importantly, I spend an hour in the sunshine, moving, stretching, sweating just a little, and letting my mind wander. It’s a much needed change of scenery from the grey cubicle monotony. Even if I end up with a couple scratches.

I highly recommend it.

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An Ode to the Chinook Book

Oh Chinook Book..

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

You provide me with valuable coupons to the local businesses I so adore. That in and of itself, it’s enough really. Sure your sticker price is $20. At that you are a bargain. Yet, somehow you always find your way to me at a discount. I appreciate that about you. This year I came across you  for $15, plus your new little companion mobile coupons. That double the coupons. Thanks friend.

Sure, right now there will be a frenzy of using up those valuable store coupons. $5 off $25? $10 off $50? 2 for 1 coffee drinks? Yes, please. The husband and I have even been known to split up our purchases to take full advantage of your bounty in minimal trips.

Unlike some of those ‘Other Coupons’, retailers are happy to see you. Your discounts are not too deep to cause resentment, but I can still feel like Im getting a deal.

I strive to take full advantage of your charms.

Like trading cards of yore, I swap you with my friends. I give you to friends with different circumstances who are more likely to use particular coupons than I am. I’m always happy to offer up your services, and sing your praises. I’ve even been known to use you as a birthday gift or donate you to a local group. Because who doesn’t like saving money with my pal Chinook?

I know you aren’t available in all cities, just yet. You’re fickle that way Chinook. It makes me feel all the more lucky.

Right now, I am particularly basking in our friendship, as I use up the 2011 book, and daydream about  2012. Oh, the times we’ll have!

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Part II: The Leap

Welcome to Part II of my ‘There and Back Again’ series. This is meant to provide background on the ‘Dogs or Dollars’ journey  of the past 3 years. Please take a moment to read Part I: The Layoff

After The Layoff, I went home. I worked 1 day a week a week at the Pet Store. I pondered my future.

I was still doing that when the out-source company, who I really did not want to work for, called and offered me a job, again. The job I’d already turned down a couple times pre-layoff. I took it. The only things to note about that experience are…

  • It was the culmination of everything I hated about Corporate America.
  • I kept my part-time Pet Store job during that time. My first foray into the life of 2 jobs, and 1 day off per week.
  • It was almost 6 months to the day when I put in my notice.

As I suspected, I did not want to work for that company. My chipper gonna-make-it-work attitude did not last long. It was like a greatest hits reel of reasons why I did not want to do that anymore.

Most importantly though, my unhappy work circumstances, provided me with the motivation I needed to walk away.

I took a full-time job as the Manager of the Pet Store.

Let’s define the Pet Store a little. First off, we did not sell cats or dogs. Or fish or hamsters for that matter. Purely a dog and cat supply shop. We also did not sell Alpo or Kibbles and Bits or even Iams or Science Diet. Only hand picked high-quality products. The things I’d been educating myself on and advocating for years in my dog-related hobbies of rescue and training.

The store was independently owned by a wonderful women, herself a Corporate Drop-out.  After almost 5 years in business, she wanted to take a step back from the daily operations. I would be responsible for all the ordering and receiving, most of the management of the 8 employees, vendor relations, customer service escalations, site management, and much of the promotions and events. Pretty much everything, except the payroll and the taxes.

For this I would be paid $15/hour to start. I made more than that when I was 18.

I did this willingly and whole-heartedly. As paltry as the rate seemed, I did my homework. I knew it was quite competitive for the industry. Even generous, considering I had limited experience in the field, and had never managed people before.

In August of 2009, I left Corporate America on a Friday, and started at The Pet Store on a Tuesday. And, so it began.

Almost immediately, I was completely overwhelmed. With details. With responsibilities. With employees, unhappy about their inexperienced manager. With new products. With paperwork and invoices.

It was the first time for so many things in my work experience. The first time I had to work a set schedule. Work the holidays. Be on my feet most of the day. Not have a desk or personal space. Set the example for all the other employees around me. Have my every move under scrutiny.

Never mind the people management, I’d never had a full-time customer service job. I had no idea how challenging and disruptive dealing with the public all day could be. For the first time in my very talkative life, I ran out of chit for my chat. I would come home and want to be nothing but quiet. I couldn’t even listen to the radio in the car.

It was not easy. Those first 6 months are a blur of exhaustion and self-doubt.


I had this awesome Boss Lady. She was the best, and most challenging boss I have ever had. Boss Lady had run this business herself for many years. She could do all aspects of my job better than me, at any time. To her, I was an investment. She paid me more than anyone else, so she wouldn’t have to be there. It was the first time I was aware of my salary being a line item on someone’s balance sheet. It was an education in difference between working for an individual vs. a faceless corporation.

As an employer, she was a good one. Most of the employees had been there for years. Remember this is retail. That is not typical. She treated us well. Paid time off accrual. Quarterly profit sharing bonuses. Partial reimbursement on insurance premiums.  We hosted cats for adoption, at our own expense and regularly held events for non-profit organizations. Community building and responsibility were her bag.

I was hired knowing it would not be forever. I was doing this to get out of Corporate America and see if I wanted to open my own store. Boss Lady and I had a policy of full disclosure, frank and open communication. How do you run someones business who wants to run their own business? You tell them everything. See, Boss Lady was wonderful, but she was also a bit of a workaholic. She wanted to be at home working. Emphasis on the working. I quickly learned that she needed to be kept abreast of daily operations and decisions. As long as I kept the information flowing, all was well.

I admit, I lost myself in this whole thing. Work/Life balance was certainly compromised. There was so much to learn, big shoes to fill, and a never-ending to-do list. Gone were the days of laying low in my cubicle for a day or two between projects. This was a bottom-less pit of go and do.

I dove in. I was passionate about the subject matter. About new products and pricing and providing unique options for our customers. About making this the best store it could be. I began to refer to it as ‘our store’.

My set schedule afforded me mornings to myself to exercise, and think and manage my financial empire. But, I often came home late. In the evenings, it was a struggle to disengage from the store. There was always one more invoice, one more customer. I volunteered myself for extra work because I thought it was my responsibility to be flexible and available. On my days off, I checked email. I had long phone conversations with Boss Lady about the upcoming week.

And I loved it. I was so determined to succeed at this. There was self-motivation I did not know I had. I have never worked so hard in my life.

During this time, we were also adjusting to significantly less income. Obviously, I prepared for this. However,  the reality was a rude awakening. I had always been the primary bread-winner in our household. This job meant about a 60% reduction in income. We could not have even considered doing this if our financial house wasn’t already in order. On paper it was do-able, even with our Big Fat Mortgage.

My Pet Store income was the same as what I’d made on unemployment during The Layoff. We’d come through that no worse for wear. That was a temporary thing though. A batten down the hatches and weather the storm situation. This was our life now. Again, that reality was something slightly different.

Irregular expenses were not as easy to recover from. Irregular expenses I had taken for granted. Things which were not accounted for in our budget, because we’d previously lived so far below our means. Before I’d had plenty of slush money for things like our annual Holiday Party, and anniversaries  and Foster Dog expenses. I could cover those things without saving. Now, I found myself dipping into the ‘Emergency Fund’. Then, because we had less income, that Emergency Fund wasn’t so quick to recover.

There were growing (shrinking?) pains. We were making adjustments. Still saving. Fine by all accounts.

Then, The Husband lost his job.

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Money Saving Monday: Refinance thoughts.

For days going onto weeks, we’ve had an on-going great debate. To refinance or not? We’ve been plagued with this Big Fat Mortgage for over 3 years now. With interests rates this low, it  actually make sense to refinance. Oh, how I’ve been dreaming of (and planning for) this! You’d think I would jump at the chance. Yet, here I am, hesitating.

I’ve been running calculators over at and came across this article at fivecentnickel.

Yes, refinancing is going to lower our monthly overhead. This has been an overarching goal for so long now it’s hard to see anything else. However, if consider the effects on the interest paid throughout the life of the loan, its not such a happy day anymore.

Lowering my payment by $350 a month, is going to cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars in interest, if I stick with a 30 year term. If I shorten the term to save myself the interest, my payment is right back where it is today, limiting our lifestyle options.

What’s a homeowner to do? Do we  stay the course? Because we’ve always been able to pay our payment, no matter how tough it was. Or do I keep the focus and low our monthly payment? That’s always been the plan, and it will prepare us for the next phase of our lives whatever that may be.

In other household doings, it’s not quite fall yet, but you’d never know that after this weekend. My thoughts are turning to insulation and winter preparations. As a start to that, a snazzy new set of Socket Sealers are on the way courtesy of Amazon bucks. While our house is pretty well sealed,  we do have a drafty kitchen with a bunch of outlets on exterior walls. I'm going to use these throughout the house, hoping it will help the kitchen the most.

Also scored a Groupon for a $25 oil change for The Husband. He can’t even buy the oil for that price. Plus, oil changing is a chore he hates. I’m considering this  a little deposit in my karma bank. Next time I ask him to change the oil, he will grouse less because he didn’t have to do it the time before.

I am setting up automated Craigslist searches for rain barrels in my area. Ugly Garden is in need of a couple. I’m planning way ahead on this because I don’t want to pay $75 a pop. At that rate it would take forever for them to be worth their purchase price.

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Sunday Spending: Growing Mushrooms

This is an update to my on-going Once A Month Shopping experiment

Yes, as I alluded to last week,  we are growing mushrooms! Not in a gross, dirty closet kind of way. In an intentional, $20 experiment kind of way. It’s a kit I bought last week from Cascadia Mushurooms at the Harvest Festival. If all goes well (as it currently is), we will get 2lbs of yummy oyster mushrooms from this puppy, making it a heck of a deal. Even better, once its done with this round of growing, we can set it up in the yard, where (hopefully) it will continue to produce in the Spring and Fall. Awesome!

I was skeptical, until I peeked today and discovered these little gems…

The Fungus Among Us
The Fungus Among Us












Hard to see from the photos,  I know. But, the Fungi are definitely in the house. I am upgrading my status to cautiously optimistic.

Mushroom excitement concluded. Moving on to this week’s spending.

3 weeks in and all continues as planned, mostly. There was certainly a grocery list this week. A list which consisted of some much needed basics; milk and eggs being the most urgent. This was to be expected. Although I thought the eggs might last longer. We ate 3 dozen eggs in 2 weeks!! Apparently, we love us some easy protein sources.

Milk and eggs necessitate a trip the Farmers Market, where  we also picked up a couple of sweet onions. Spent a total of $31. The rest of this weeks produce will be coming in our CSA box. If you haven’t already, you may want to check out Organic Bacon from Hippieville to understand some of the method to my Farmer’s Market Madness.

After my Chocolate Debaucle, I have officially surpassed the high-water mark for this month’s ‘budget’. Right now, Im focusing on sticking within the time and shopping trip constraints. I’ll revisit numbers in the monthly recap. No matter how humiliating it is.

There are a few other things we almost need, which I am attempting to put off; Tortillas, chips, mayo and coffee filters. This is partially because of a misunderstanding between the Husband and myself as to the terms and conditions  of ‘Once a Month Grocery Shopping’. Maybe we can make it until next week, but I haven’t counted the coffee filters yet.

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Stuff Purgatory.

After my Goodwill pilgrimage earlier this week, it was time to visit the hall cupboard.

See, there is a special little spot in our hall cupboard. Its the deep bottom shelf on the left hand side. Not a super convenient spot for keeping anything you want to access on a regular basis. But, an excellent home for Stuff Purgatory.

Long ago, we started a policy; If we want a particular item to leave the house, for whatever reason, into Stuff Purgatory it goes. If when I re-open the cupboard in preparation for a run to Goodwill, and it’s still there, it’s outta here.

This morning’s evacuees.

Going, going...
Going, going...








If I’ve found that I need it in between, I’ve had the option to go retrieve it. We make Goodwill runs about once every 2 months. Nothing is ejected from the house without out due process.

My little purgatory cupboard is quite handy. It is in the house, but not of the house. Items are taken out of regular rotation, yet available if needed. Occasionally, I’ve experienced a change of heart. Occasionally. But by and large, if its made into purgatory, its for a reason.

After the gym this morning, all this stuff made it to the fine people at the Goodwill donation trailer. Thereby closing the circle.

I’d also like to point out that the pile of stuff leaving the house was far bigger than the pile of stuff that entered the house. I’m pretty proud of that. 1 in 1 out rule maintained, and then some.


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